a spotlight on the human aspects of accident prevention

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The “Nut Island Effect” on safety

Blog 11aThe phrase “nut island effect” was coined by Paul F Levy, head of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) and became widely known when he published a paper about it in the Harvard Business Review in 2001.  Nut Island is a 5 acre small island in Boston Harbour that was used from 1952 onwards as the site for a sewage treatment facility, until it was decommissioned in 1997.  It was run by a dedicated team that worked in isolation, doing a complex but important job, and who were ignored by management, until things went wrong.  Continue reading


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When hierarchy can be bad for safety

Every organisation, no matter how democratic its culture is, has a hierarchy and a management structure in place, as this is necessary to define roles and responsibilities.  People need to know who’s in charge and who makes decisions.  No organisation can function without a hierarchy.

However, organisations that depend on having a good safety culture for their day-to-day operations cannot survive solely on a hierarchical mind-set in the long-term.  Ultimately, the lack of flexibility in depending only on one style of management will cripple an organisation when an unexpected crisis occurs. Continue reading

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The behavioural safety approach

Any injury or loss of life caused by accidents is both tragic and avoidable.  In the oil and gas industry, the Piper Alpha disaster is one of the more well-known incidents where safety was compromised in multiple areas – in their systems, processes and in human behaviour.  More recent incidents such as the Costa Concordia ferry disaster highlight especially the effect that human error can have on the safety of crew and passengers.  Continue reading

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Dealing with constant change in the interest of improving safety

Over the last 100 years or so, life has changed rapidly, compared to the many centuries before that.  These days, the only thing that anyone is sure about is that things are always changing.

This is especially true in the workplace, especially where there are rapid and regular upgrades in technology, information processing and staff turnover.  Improvements to safety are also taking place at the same time and workers are constantly being trained and re-trained to cope with these changes on a regular basis. Continue reading