Human error reportedly accounts for 70% to 100% of workplace incidents. Among the biggest contributors to worker errors are stress, fatigue and poor organizational culture. It’s easy and tempting to lay blame and follow that up with training or discipline. But that approach misses the point most times and doesn’t address the work systems that set up the errors.
Here are some of the most common construction errors. Catch them before they happen:
1. Humans design systems
Systems can easily set up the conditions for an incident or accident. Accidents often have multiple causes, and some may exist for a long time before the accident happens.
You might have excellent work safety procedures written into your onboarding program or included in your work packages. But without enforcing those procedures, you have not one but many accidents just waiting for the right conditions.
Whether it’s a safety incident, a quality shortcoming, a missed deadline or a busted budget, construction organizations find blaming individuals more satisfying than questioning their own institutions.
In fact, many sources on human errors in the workplace totally ignore the influences of the human-designed systems within which people must work. Blaming individuals exclusively gives the organization a way to stay insulated from blame while allowing it to use simple, unimaginative solutions like discipline, firing, or retraining to deal with issues. However, such approach holds companies back from learning how to become highly reliable organizations that deal with errors holistically.
High reliability refers to organizations that use a systems approach to manage the potential for errors. They focus on reducing the person’s chances of making mistakes and the factors at the team level, the task level, the workplace level, and the organizational level. Here is how they do it.2
2. It’s only human
Human error affects many aspects of construction projects, especially safety and quality. Sources on human error use information based on accident and incident reports. When people compile this information into statistics, they face the problem of weeding out causal factors from inaccurate, forgotten and assumed information.
Did a person really not see the lockout tag? Or, did they see it but assumed it was no longer necessary due to other information they had been provided? It makes no difference because in both cases, human error was at work. So while statistics about human error in workplace incidents are anecdotal, even a cursory review of accident reports reveals that human error is definitely a major cause of incidents.
3. Harness human variability
The way humans adapt to changing situations is a safeguard against errors. So these organizations put error control at the lowest possible level. In construction, that might mean having a person designated as a safety monitor on every task.
It would also mean regular training in ‘wariness,’ which tests individuals’ assumptions about what’s safe and what’s not. A quality control expert at the task level makes critical assessments of materials and methods, while a cost control specialist at the activity level scans for waste or inappropriate substitutions. The idea is to expect and encourage human action yet to do it with a healthy dose of skepticism.
4. Get preoccupied with failure
These highly reliable organizations expect to make errors. They constantly question operations and seek error solutions before even needing them. With a workforce trained to recognize errors and recover from them quickly, these organizations don’t fall into the trap of isolating errors without seeing the bigger picture.
A concrete truck with no place to unload is a result of multiple errors. You can’t effectively address the error without seeing all the factors that led to it. Fixing the last error and then moving on simply leaves all the other errors waiting to rear their heads tomorrow, the next day, or the following week.
Human beings will always seek to avoid the stress of being constantly wary, always waiting for the next shoe to drop. So in highly reliable organizations, when people forget to be aware, the organization should supply the reminder and ways to remember. When your company is highly reliable, it has also learned to expect and recover from errors. In the process, it has become more resilient.