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Operational Discipline: Minimizing Human Error

Posted by Marc Cramer on 01.21.20


Safety First written on rural road

A recent article in Chemical Processing written by James A. Klein of ABSG Consulting Inc. describes the concept of operational discipline (OD) and how it relates to the performance of employees and the procedures in the workplace. Organizations can institute operational discipline programs which help reduce incidents caused by human error and lead to a more productive working environment.

The key takeaway when it comes to the idea of operational discipline—and critical to process safety management—is that each individual must have a commitment to following procedure correctly in every instance of work throughout the day, or more simply put, everyone doing things the right way every time. Although this may sound like an unachievable goal, due to people naturally wanting to find shortcuts or easier ways to carry out tasks, operational discipline programs can help bring an organization closer to perfect performance.

There are always going to be factors that are beyond control. Despite this, an organization can implement operational discipline programs and take the right steps to improve the things that are controllable, such as minimizing risk and improving the procedures taking place on a day to day basis.

Anticipation of human error is something that can vastly reduce the number of accidents and increase overall productivity in a facility. The author lists some of the causes of human error as being human fallibility, complacency, training issues, familiarity with the work being done, and lack of risk recognition - all of which can be found in the workplace to some degree. The implementation of operational discipline programs and practices can help facilities to be mindful of these things in order to help reduce them.

Operational discipline is something that only works if every member in the organization is on board, actively contributing to the betterment of the processes and safety in the workplace.

Klein writes that "A program must focus on both organizational and personal OD". The development of a program that is going to affect all employees must contain things that are both enforceable at the organizational level but include things that the individual employee is mindful of and can monitor themselves.

As a guide, there is a provided list of concepts for both organizations and individuals that can help generate an operational discipline strategy. At the organizational level, there is mention of a leadership focus and employee engagement. These factors are things that will become a part of the organization’s culture over time and will influence the behavior of every employee in the workplace. On a more personal level, there is a focus on employee knowledge and commitment which requires the individual to put forth the effort in order to be successful, but if the culture surrounding the employee supports this kind of effort then it is more likely that the employee will put forth the effort.

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