By Gregory Hale
During the course of any day at a chemical process plant, workers have to make decisions that are often small and seemingly mundane, but in a rare occurrence an incident breaks out and the right response has to happen and it has to happen now.

How can you make the right decision?

“We must invest in allowing our workers to make better decisions,” said Jennifer McDonald, EHS – process safety at W.R. Grace during a session at the 2020 Virtual AIChE Spring Meeting & 16th Global Conference on Process Safety entitled “I Just Didn’t Think” – Improving Situational Awareness. “We must invest in teaching employees to make safer decisions.”

McDonald, who gave one of three presentations on the topic, pointed out the National Safety Council said every seven seconds a worker is injured on the job. The lack of hazard recognition and poor decision making are some reasons why that happens.

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Walking the Stairs
She pointed out a simple scenario about a person walking up the stairs.

One case is you can walk up the stairs without an issue and not notice a loose stair near the top. In that case you are lucky. In another instance, you can walk up the stairs and notice one stair is loose near the top. That is a near miss. In another, you can walk up the stairs and trip on the loose stair near the top, breaking your ankle . That is a recordable injury. A final scenario is you walk up the stairs and trip on the loose stair, and fall down the stairs causing a fatality.

All those cases point to a need for corrective behavior where you:

  • Preserve the scene
  • Collect information
  • Determine root cause
  • Implement correct action

When a near miss occurs, you have to investigate to find the root cause and then implement a corrective action. That where McDonald said a post incident behavior-based (PIBB) discussion comes in.

This is where you can engage employees involved in a conversation rooted in hazard recognition to promote changed behavior in a neutral location, she said.

There are five phases of PIBB discussion:
1. Invest in employees
2. Realize leadership
3. Understand sensory experience
4. Revealing vulnerabilities
5. Foster motivation

Hazard Recognition
The goal with PIBB is to engage the employee in a conversation rooted in hazard recognition to promote changed behavior and a safer environment.

Meanwhile, promoting changed behavior works, but understanding the psychology behind decision also helps.

There is the conscious awareness, but the more dominant subconscious making most of our decisions without being consciously aware of it.

“Our subconscious is making more decisions which is where 95 percent of judgement and decision making comes from,” said Dave Grattan, process safety engineer at aeSolutions, during his portion of the session.

In any safety critical task, it can always be broken down into three questions: What? So what? And what now?

The what is to become aware of a problem dependent on the external issue. We see with our brains and not with our eyes. Our brain has picked up from the stored library created over the years.

So what is to interpret and diagnose dependent on the interface to the worker affecting how they make decisions and their psychology.

What now: Dependent on the experience of the worker and their ability to use inductive reasoning.

What can we do to become more aware of what is occurring in front of our very eyes and not rely on the subconscious:

  • Create strong cues from the environment
  • Design for the principle of least effort
  • Develop good habits related to task execution
  • Drill skill-based intuition
  • Use framing and loss aversion

Mind Mapping
Instead of understanding the psychology of the worker and, T. Michael O’Connor, research associate at the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, is looking a mind mapping techniques.

“There is the inability of organizations to learn from an incident, retain the knowledge and then recall it when needed,” he said. We have gaps; a failure to organize past experiences in a useful framework.”

To bridge those gaps, O’Connor said they use mind mapping tools to help discover a conceptual organization of key factors in incidents where they collect incident and harmful outcomes, analyze and extract key learnings, and organize the hazard for each type of task using a mind map.

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words and ideas linked around a central key word. The goal is to provide an intuitive tool for organizing hazards associated with a task.

Mind-mapping offers a means to organize and assist in the recall of hazards that have resulted in previous incidents. This helps identify hazards hidden from view, which are not normally encountered and to organize them in a way that is easy to recall or identify. Applying this method can improve procedures as well as training and act as a check flor those directly involved before undertaking a hazardous task.

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