#1 - Hazards or
Human Error?

When you ask people what is more important: hazards or human error you will get many different perspectives. This article explores those perspectives and introduces a new way of thinking about hazards and hazardous energy.

If you ask people what’s more important, hazards or human error, you will hear many different perspectives. Many managers, including some safety professionals, think that industrial safety is all about, or at least mostly about the “hazards”, things that are inherently dangerous like a flame, toxic chemical or rotating saw blade, something that needs to be contained, guarded or controlled.

And certainly, from a regulator’s point of view, hazards—and the aforementioned controlling or guarding of them—is basically what the inspection is all about. So, it’s easy enough to see why some managers and safety professionals think hazards are so important. In addition, engineering controls, ventilation systems, guarding and personal protective equipment all cost money. Since these costs do not improve production or quality directly, it’s also easy enough to understand why many managers think they are a “sunk cost” or just a “cost of doing business”, which reinforces or helps to support the paradigm that industrial safety is primarily about the hazards.

However, there are other people who would go even further – and say that human error is inevitable; that it’s a result, not a cause; and that it is not important in a well-managed safety system… and then they go home and tell their kids to be “careful”. Or, if they do get hurt: try to be “more careful” next time. Hypocrite or wrong paradigms?

Well, hypocrite is a strong word. So, let’s look at the paradigms involved here. If someone thinks that a hazard is something that is inherently dangerous like a flame, toxic chemical, etc. and you get them to look at a concrete bridge on the highway; and then ask, “Is that bridge a hazard?”, most of them will inspect the bridge, and if there’s nothing wrong with it, they’ll say no. “But what if you hit it at 60 mph (or 100 km/h)—on a motorbike?” Well, then it could kill you…

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3 thoughts on “#1 – Hazards or Human Error?

  1. This is an incredibly powerful concept which strips bare the limitations of traditional safety management approaches (and BBS) – a big ah-ha moment!!

  2. Great insights that will forever change the way we see safety! 👏🏻👏🏻

  3. It is simply not possible to argue against this logic! The message comes across very powerful.

    Traditional safety management has arguably its forces and serves the purpose of ensuring a reasonably safe working environment free of physical hazards – which is also needed – but it for sure has its limitations when dealing with human error.

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