Sign up to our newsletter
Keep up to date with all HSE news and thought leadership interviews

Ron Gantt on the new view of health and safety

Human factors, safety management systems, the new view of safety | Ron Gantt (#11)


Here we interview Ron Gantt, Director of Innovation and Operations at the Reflect Consulting Group. With Ron, we explore the role in human factors on influencing health and safety, in addition to safety management systems and safety leadership.



Read full transcript

– [Paul] We’re excited today to interview Mr. Ron Gantt. Ron has spent his career helping organisations create the conditions for human flourishing of work. He’s a lifelong learner with 18 years experience in safety management, system safety, human factors, resilience engineering and organisational leadership and leadership, with a passion for creating processes that bring out the best in people, tapping into the creative problem-solving we all have to do with the complex problems we face.

He also heads up as the director of Reflect Consulting Group and the editor of Safety Differently, working closely with Mr. Sidney Decker. Today, we discuss with Ron human factors, behaviour, safety management systems, leadership and resilience engineering, the new view of safety. Over to you Ron. Right.

Mr. Ron Gant, welcome to BFU, Houston, Texas for the HSE North America Congress. And we are delighted to interview today yourself for HSE Network, and talk about some pressing subjects that I know you’re passionate about with your organisation and your background and of course your career. So we’re going to discuss with you today, Ron, some of the challenges around human factors behaviour, safety management systems, leadership and resilience engineering in the sort of the new view of safety.

So the first question I wanted to ask you, you’re probably well aware that and know that safety has reached a plateau in improvement. There are certain safety statistics that have been provided by the HSE, showing how major incidents have stayed the same. And the question is how we learn from other major industries like aviation, like the nuclear sector, and look to how tasks and I guess equipment are set up to reduce the potential for mistakes.

Companies are looking to adopt human factors, behaviours to help optimise operation safety. So my question to you is, what does human performance mean for you in practise and what are the principles that define it?

– [Ron] So for me, human performance is about identifying how people operate in the real world and optimising that to get better outcomes, right? So, you know, kind of as a contrast, a lot of old ways of approaching safety are based on figuring out what you don’t want and just stopping there and saying, okay, how do we stop that from happening?

The problem with that approach was it was artificial, it didn’t really consider people in the real world and in organisations and how people interact with risk and with each other. So human performance fixes that from my perspective. It puts people back in context of the world they’re living in and then asks the question, “Okay, how can we make this relationship between people and the organisation, people and each other people and their equipment better?”

And so the key principles for me are two. Number one, you know, understand people’s local rationality, how they make sense of the world in that moment. Understand that, that’s number one. Number two, once you understand that, then ask the question, how can we make it easier for people to do the thing that’s good, right?

The right thing, whatever thing we want, how can make it hard for them to do the wrong thing? Whatever, you know, getting themselves hurt, for example. And then also how can we make it so that when people do the wrong thing or when the wrong thing happens, nobody dies. So make it recoverable.

– Okay then, on that note, when we look at safety systems and processes, some will say that our approach I guess is way too bureaucratic, and as a result, creates more and more paperwork. Some safety-critical sectors, if you look at aviation, for example, have tackled this issue head-on. They’ve radically simplified their safety systems. They did this I guess because investigations into a series of aviation accidents demonstrated that safety procedures were too complex, you know, long and, if you like, not understood when needed.

But so with that in mind, what can we learn perhaps from the aviation industry and other high-risk sectors? And second to that, if you don’t mind me asking, will the next generation of employees, millennials, Gen Z, for example, engage with our paper-driven process?

– So first of all, what we can learn from the aviation sector I think, you know, one thing that you just pointed out is they do have a lot of procedures and, you know, they can be obviously very complex because the aviation system is very complex. But it’s often, or at least there’s thought given to, “Okay, is this procedure actually adding value?”

It’s not just a procedure for the sake of a procedure, right? It’s not just, “Hey, we had a problem, let’s add a procedure and then the problem will go away.” A lot of aviation operators are really thinking hard about, “Okay, how can we enable people to, you know, operate successfully?” And, you know, then the question becomes, okay, would a procedure help in that instance?

And so in a way the procedure gets put back in its proper place, a tool, right? Something that’s supposed to help us not an end unto itself which it sort of has become in a lot of organisations, right? Where it’s, you know, following the procedure is the measure for whether it’s safe or not, which that doesn’t make sense because everybody knows procedures are imperfect.

So I think we can learn from aviation to put the procedure back in its place, it’s a process intervention. It’s not an outcome that we want. To the second point, it’s really good. I mean, we’re going to have to really think differently about, how, you know, people interact with our procedures and our processes and our systems. As new technologies are coming in.

I mean, it blows my mind, we have generations coming in that don’t know a world without the internet, you know, that have never seen a telephone that has a cord in it. You know, it’s just bizarre, right? And, you know, and that’s a real-life thing and it’s going to have real-world consequences, right? So if we come at safety management like we did in the past, we may actually be inadvertently setting ourselves up for failure and it’s not going to be good enough for us to say, “Well, you know, it worked for us, therefore it must work for them.”

That’s just not going to be the case, right? We can get frustrated at that all day long or we can start asking the new generations, what do you need? What would help you, you know, be more effective or use this process or whatever? You know what I mean? It’s really more collaboration I think is what we need.

– No longer a paper-pushing industry then?

– Yeah, hopefully. Don’t tell the tree industry.

– Absolutely. All safety professionals I guess I’ve heard the Heinrich-applied ideas, the famous Heinrich triangle, I believe. So that amongst other current safety [inaudible] because obviously, I know you’re quite heavily involved in the Safety Differently build for the website and editor in chief.

So you know, other safety programmes, you’ve got behavioural based safety, you’ve got zero harm or zero anything, you know, so forth, which, you know, vigorously promoted by consultancies all the time and adopted by firms of safety professionals. Do you think these theories are bogus and do we need to endure, do we need to introduce a more evidenced approach to safety?

I mean we live in a world of aggressive digitalisation and transformation, it’s picking up pace every second, every day. How do you embrace this in our plans and I guess use it to our benefit?

– So I wouldn’t say that they’re bogus. I would say that the interpretations of them are bogus. And so I mean, the reason I say that is because, you know, at the end of the day, the Heinrich pyramid is a correlation, right? You know, there’s X number of minor events and you’re going to have a smaller number of major events, you know, that’s just going to be normal life, right?

And the problem is when we say that that correlation is a relationship, right? That, okay, I can now predict how many fatalities I’m going to have based upon how many minor injuries I’m going to have? And that’s just not true, you know. And so you can say that, you know, I’m going to have a lot more minor events and smaller number of major events but the question then becomes what do we do with that information?

And at the end of the day, there’s not much you can do without diving into the details, getting into the particulars of what are these events that we’re having and what are the conditions that are surrounding those events? To me, that’s the big question, you know, because sometimes I feel like, in the safety space, we get lost in the abstract and we start, you know, well the Heinrich’s wrong and Heinrich’s right and all this.

And really at the end of the day, the question then becomes, okay, what events are we actually talking about? You know, does how many times we have people rolling their ankle have a predictive value on how often we’re going to blow up our plant? No, of course not. Then the numbers, you know, whether they’re true or not is irrelevant, it’s not going to help me make better decisions. And that at the end of the day is the question, what theories are going to help us make better decisions?

I’m a big believer when it comes to theories that it’s not about whether they’re accurate, it’s about whether they’re useful. What’s actually going to help us do better in the future because all theories, you know, they have a context in which they make sense. So I think we need to start asking, okay, when does that make sense? And when is it not applicable?

That’s a better question as to whether it, you know, than whether it’s accurate or not, if that makes sense?

– Ron, thank you so much for coming in.

– It’s my pleasure.

– Thank you for doing the interview with HSE Network. And I can’t wait to see you in Portugal, Lisbon.

– Yeah, yeah. It’ll be fun. Portugal is awesome.

– Fantastic. Thank you.