Human Factors and Performance with Todd Conklin

Pre-recorded Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, a production of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

CCOHS: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety to Go, joining us on the phone today is Dr. Todd Conklin, Senior Advisor for Organizational and Safety Culture at Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the world’s foremost research and development laboratories. Today Dr. Conklin is going to speak to us about human factors and performance. Dr. Conklin, thanks for being here today.

Todd: Hey, my pleasure, thanks for having me. What a nice introduction too!

CCOHS: Dr. Conklin, you specialize in human factors and performance, can you explain what that is and how it relates to workplace health and safety?

Todd: Sure. So, we’ve probably got to talk a little bit about how safety has changed, and the past history of safety, the current history or safety, and then we have the future of safety. Probably everybody that’s listening to the podcast thinks about these things, and that’s an important part.

In the old days I think we looked at safety as something we “did” to workers. And we sort of saw the workers as something that needed to be fixed, needed to be made better. That’s changing, and what’s changing about that is that partially we’re starting to realize that the workers really come to work wanting to do a good job, that’s kinda their entire goal. And that often times, safety issues, oddly a function of bad choices or bad behaviors, are really a bunch of goal conflicts and poor systems, and unrecognized risk, unmitigated risk. Often times there are pressures and goal conflicts that influence how workers view what they do. What’s interesting is when you start to think “huh, is that a workers’ choice issue or is that a systems issue, you start looking at safety a little differently and that’s kinda what’s happened.

So aviation was ahead of us, oil and gas has been ahead of us, Canada, really in many ways leads the way, for the way they look at systems, influence and safety. Human performance looks at how people perform specifically within the systems and one of the things we cite is that people are a function but they’re only about one-third of the function. You have to look at the people, you have to look at the systems, and you have to look at leadership. And that’s kinda what I do.

CCOHS:: Why is this topic human factors and performance so important to the workplace?

Todd: Because it really allows us to move to a new level of safety performance. It allows us to actually not manage safety but manage the capacity for our system to fail. And it allows us, really, a better notion of prediction. We can’t really predict accidents, we’re terrible at that, but we can predict where accidents will happen and then manage the defenses around those. It’s very effective. It’s also really encouraging and it engages workers at a much different level as well.

CCOHS: How can human performance be factored in or incorporated into the workplace?

Todd: Well, it’s always incorporated, so it’s always present. How humans perform is pretty much how work gets done. Workers are constantly adapting to variability, they’re constantly managing change, and they’re constantly answering questions, adapting, improvising, and solving problems. That’s a part of how work gets done. There is always a distinct difference between the way we imagine work and the way work actually happens and human performance allows us to have a language to sort of capture how work really happens. It’s a good way to do it.

CCOHS: Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share with our listeners today?

Todd: Yes, so I would like to invite your listeners to be a part of another podcast. So I have a podcast as well and it’s pretty popular, and it’s really fun. And it talks specifically about human performance and safety. It’s called the Pre-accident Prevention Podcast and it’s available any place podcasts are available.

CCOHS: Thank you again for joining us today Dr. Conklin. Dr. Todd Conklin will be covering this topic more in depth as a speaker at CCOHS’ Forum 2016 “The Changing World of Work” in February 2016. For more information about this event and his presentation please visit the CCOHS website Thanks for listening everyone.