Preventing work-related accidents cleverly

Work-related accidents caused by human error can be avoided: The key to it lies within our brains. An interview concerning the topic with David Musgrave, DEKRA Insight.

In order to make work safer, a team of employees should go over their following work steps together like pilot and copilot. Illustration: Michael Stach

In order to make work safer, a team of employees should go over their following work steps together like pilot and copilot. Illustration: Michael Stach

Is the functioning of our brain comparable to a computer?
Musgrave: These days we know a lot about what drives people, and what motivates them. We also know a lot more about the biology of the brain. Just ten years ago, we thought the brain operated like a computer but now we know that is not the case.

What are the biggest differences?
Musgrave: Unlike computers, we have an unlimited storage capacity. We can just keep putting more and more information in our brains and not run out of space. Furthermore, we can do many things simultaneously. Computers can’t. They are meant to go step-by-step to figure things out. The brain does many things all at once through a series of electrochemical reactions, hence its processing speed. However, there is one key area where our brains are still inferior to computers: reliability. This limitation has a huge impact on safety and Right-First-Time performance at work.

What are the reasons for this?
Musgrave: It’s harder for us to get correct information out of our brains compared to a computer. The way human memory works is that when we encode information, it’s kind of like laying down information in grooves. That’s the learning process. In the retrieval process, we have to reconstruct what we’ve learned before and it’s never an exact match so errors can result. This reliability issue in part, stems from inherent Brain-Centered Hazards which every employee needs to manage on the job. Cognitive fatigue is an example of one: The brain doesn’t have the energy it needs to think through safety-critical situations when it’s fatigued, so it doesn’t perform reliably. For instance, an assembly worker – who has carried out the same activity for years – could make an error one day which leads to serious injuries or massive breakdowns. Other factors, including the work environment, the job task design, culture and leadership, also contribute to how employees can make errors instead of successfully executing critical tasks.

What can we do to minimize the risks?
Musgrave: Businesses can promote reliable performance by installing solutions that trigger us into more active, critical thinking while doing important job tasks. An example is the establishment of cross-checking: two or three employees working together on a critical task actually talking through the steps being done. Similar to the collaboration between a pilot and her copilot. DEKRA Insight is on the cutting-edge of these new developments with its Brain-Centric Reliability System that it’s rolling out right now. As a result of this approach, organizations, teams, and individuals can take control of operational reliability and human performance error by planning work with the brain in mind.

David Musgrave, Vice President of the Brain-Centric Reliability System for DEKRA Insight. Photo: Musgrave

David Musgrave, Vice President of the
Brain-Centric Reliability System for DEKRA Insight. Photo: Musgrave

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