The Key to Managing Human Error at Work: Engagement

May 27, 2011
A worker makes a mistake on the job and causes an accident. He’s at fault, right? Not necessarily. One expert suggests that instead of playing the blame game, employers can more successfully manage human error by engaging workers in safety practices.

According to Jan Wachter, Ph.D., a professor of safety sciences at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, human error in the workplace might not always be preventable, but it can be better managed with tools that motivate and engage workers in the safety process.

“While human error has been associated with the majority of incidents in the workplace, it can be managed through a variety of mechanisms. But motivation and worker engagement may be the keys to human-error reduction,” he said.

Wachter will test this theory in a research project that he hopes could reduce lost workdays due to accidents by 20 percent. In the study, Wachter will investigate how well – or how poorly – workers are engaged, or buying into, a shared accountability for identifying at-risk situations and responding to them.

For example, a worker may forget her safety glasses and get glass or metal shards in her eye. Wachter suggests that this type of accident could be prevented through methods of worker engagement. For example, before each work shift, employees may get together and remind each other of the specific PPE needed for that day’s task.

“It is believed that actively engaged employees demonstrate a greater sense of personal ownership and compliance with safe work methods, adjust more quickly to needed changes in safety practices and act proactively to ensure that work is being done in the safest way possible,” said Wachter.

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