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A leader is a dealer in hope.Napoleon Bonaparte

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Human error, the greatest safety challenge

Human error, the greatest safety challenge

Human errors are the source of most accidents. And they are often due to staff who were neither incompetent nor careless. How can we make our actions more reliable by developing a safety culture?


Human error is behind most accidents. A wrong maneuver on a valve causes a gas leak and an explosion; a click on a virus-loaded web link causes the infection of the company servers by ransomware; the inversion between two customer names on an invoice angers a partner and causes the loss of a major contract; etc.

Yet, every year, companies spend billions on sensitizing and training staff on the correct safety gestures. They set up increasing numbers of procedures to limit risks. They put in place control instances to ensure rules are respected at all levels of the organization. Paradoxically, the frequency of human-made accidents does not decrease, and their cost would even tend to increase.

Should the lack of professionalism or commitment of the staff be blamed? It of course happens. But, most often, the post-mortem analyses reveal that the staff concerned were neither incompetent nor careless. They are themselves distraught, unable to understand how they could have committed such, sometimes gross, mistakes.

In reality, it is at the origin of our actions that we need to search for explanations for these mistakes: in our brain. More specifically, in its mechanisms of perceiving, sorting, memorizing and processing information. These functions are incredibly sophisticated and of an unparalleled effectiveness, but far from infallible. Many factors can push them to make mistakes: routine, fatigue, stress, distractions that divert our attention, or even an excess of concentration.

Knowing these risks allows us, to some extent, to thwart some of the traps ourselves. Yet, whatever our level of experience and care, we remain vulnerable. This is why it is essential to put in place countermeasures against these cognitive biases. We must also communicate with the staff so that everyone understands that they are exposed. This shared awareness is the basis of a “safety culture”, the only effective safeguard against human error.

In this synopsis:
– Set up a safety culture in your team
– Five situations that can lead to absurd accidents
– Using “nudges” to encourage safety habits

Synopsis n.302a


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