Domtar safety leaders first encountered the idea of human performance improvement (HPI) in 2013 at a Pulp & Paper Safety Association conference focusing on human behavior. HPI principles have driven our safety journey ever since, leading to a steady decline in workplace injuries between 2013 and 2017.
According to Domtar Pulp & Paper Safety Director Larry Warren, HPI principles have enabled our growing understanding of human behavior and its impact on our overall performance, with a special emphasis on safety as a part of our ongoing efforts to prevent injuries. HPI, based on work by the U.S. Department of Energy, helps reduce the likelihood of errors and the potential for a catastrophic result.
HPI Principles at Work
HPI principles include three major components — philosophy, investigation and error-reduction tools.
HPI’s philosophy centers on the following ideas:
- All people make mistakes.
- Errors are predictable, preventable and manageable.
- A person’s performance is influenced by organizational processes and values.
- It is possible to reduce future errors and minimize the effects in a just culture where employees are treated fairly and response to errors is appropriate and focuses on learning.
The investigation process builds on the philosophy. If errors are something people did not intend to do, what made them act that way at that moment? Part of the process is determining what may have led to the decision that resulted in the error. The process also focuses on determining the gap between work as imagined — what leaders thought or expected — and work as actually performed.
The decisions leading to the event are analyzed through a “just culture” decision tree. Our leaders find that this analysis often sheds light on reasons for the gap between work imagined and work performed. According to the Department of Energy’s research, 70 percent of human errors are the result of latent organizational weakness, requiring strong leadership integrity and commitment to respond appropriately.
The final piece of the investigation process is creating corrective actions to eliminate the gap between work as imagined and work performed.
The third element of HPI is a collection of error-reduction tools. These tools, which include a series of checks and balances, help reduce errors by encouraging and empowering employees to ask questions, follow procedures, pause when unsure and validate assumptions.
Domtar’s experience in adopting HPI principles is probably similar to others’ experiences, Warren says. Deployment can happen fairly quickly, but even though people are exposed to the HPI philosophy as part of the training, it takes some time for it to begin to take hold during the investigation phase of an event. After colleagues gain a deeper understanding of the process, the value in both the philosophy and error-reduction tools becomes apparent.
Three tenets have guided our implementation of HPI principles:
- HPI is not just a safety program. It’s about human behavior and how it influences everything people do.
- Don’t let it become a “get out of jail free” card. HPI does not mean no one should be held accountable.
- Be judicious. Resources do not allow for an HPI investigation of every error. Apply it where the potential for significant negative outcomes exists — especially life-altering injuries.
HPI principles require leadership commitment and consistency over time to allow the philosophy to take root. Investigation outcomes highlight opportunities to utilize error-reduction tools. Working together, these three pillars can drive safety and improve corporate culture.