top of page

30 Years of Learning is Great! But...

For 30 years, groups of people have been gathering together at different places in the US and Canada to share one vision – We Learn From Each Other!

I have been a part of what has now become the Community of Human and Organizational Learning (CHOLearning) since before it was a thing. At first, it was a few of us in the nuclear industry sitting around a table and talking about what we were experiencing related to this new-fangled thing called human performance. After Dr. James Reason wrote the book Human Error some of us were tasked with trying to understand it and make it so nuclear power could benefit from this new way of looking at things.

Three-Mile Island had happened. Chernobyl had happened.

The industry (at least in the US) had done everything it thought it could do to prevent those, and worse types of incidents from occurring. Failure would have been the death knell for nuclear power, and probably not just in the US.

As we tried some of the things Dr. Reason talked about in his book, we discovered that some of the things really did make more sense than the way things had been looked at for a LONG time, especially related to human success and failure. People are Fallible – what a concept! Even the best make mistakes – an even better concept! Wow, we are on a roll now.

Let’s make sure that more folks can benefit from this.

The Human Performance people crashed the party of the Root Cause and Trending folks and became the HPRCT (Human Performance, Root Cause, and Trending) Conference.

We formed a community (sound familiar?) that had each other’s backs. We helped each other when times got tough at our sites, plants, and facilities. We invited DOE folks to join in. The Institute of Nuclear Power Operation (INPO) started providing training, education, and assessment. We were happy nukes.

And the results?

What were the results of this group getting together, learning from each other, networking, and integrating the concepts into how we work?

In Figure 1 you see that the US Nuclear Industry wasn’t great at staying online and producing consistent power in the way that was both predicted and promised when we started building and operating the plants.

As we started to influence the nuclear plants and companies with our new knowledge and skills, and INPO started assessing against this new knowledge, the trend started to change. In the early 1990s, the average Capacity Factor (CF) for plants in the US was about 72%. That means on average, each plant was only producing 72% of the power it was capable of producing and expected to produce.

Much of this downtime was related to unplanned shutdowns, equipment reliability and maintenance problems, extended outages for unplanned repairs, and other issues that ultimately related to human and organizational performance. The industry needed to be SAFE and PRODUCTIVE. Integrating human performance concepts and principles into how we did work was a vital component of getting better.

What helped us do that consistently, together, and with a sharing attitude? The HPRCT Conference. I would humbly state that without this gathering, it could have been years or decades before a consistent application of the concepts produced the kind of results that were obtained. As you can see, the Capacity Factor climbed to over 90% and we hurt a lot fewer people.

That would be a great story if that were all there was to it. But each of those percentages of capacity factor represents real, hard, dollars. Did you know the downtime daily cost was a $1M loss? This figure represents the “replacement fuel costs” from a different and more expensive source.

If you did some simple math it may look like this…

Yep – that’s 6.9 with a “B”.

The work got better. The people got better. The performance got better, and the reputation got better. Talk about IMPACT!

In about 2005 I started bringing my non-nuke clients to the HPRCT Conference.

I wanted to expose them to the people who were making it happen in nuclear power. I brought people from manufacturing, mining, oil & gas, healthcare, and non-nuke utilities. This was also about the time we determined that the way things worked in nuclear power was not going to work the same way in other industries. Nevertheless, these other industries started seeing almost immediate results in safety outcomes when they were trained correctly and they integrated the concepts.

And it didn’t stop with safety. Quality improved, engagement improved, production improved, and union-leadership relationships improved. Here are just a few examples from folks who either attended the conference or had someone attend:

  • Generation plants saw the human error-related startup trip rate go from an average of 17 / year to <1 per year.

  • A large truck factory saw a noticeable takt-time reduction in the paint line with far fewer quality returns. This reduction resulted in higher factory output with fewer quality upsets. [estimated $2m in annualized cost avoidance]

  • Fully deployed business unit safety incident reduction with back-to-back [Company] Awards for safety.

  • Large constant-process manufacturing site identified in excess of $1.2M/yr. in documented savings for ONE process area accompanied by a 46% increase in employee engagement measures.

  • Quality and production managers identified an $8M/yr. annualized savings impact on recovery at one facility.

  • Sites that have integrated human performance show substantial improvements in trust and communication between all levels of the organization.

These other industry folks attended for a few years, and then split off to start their own conferences where they wouldn’t have to be “nuked” the whole time. The INPO also started their own conferences and these other conferences started to compete for time, money, and attendance with the HPRCT. But it hung in there. Every year there were new folks and old folks, and the networking and community continued.

When you think about IMAPCT! It has to be considered that none of these spin-offs and other conferences around the world would have existed without HPRCT.

After several years, the profile of the HPRCT changed and it became the Community of Human and Organizational Learning. The refreshing change brought in people who cared about human and organizational performance, operational learning, resilience and reliability, and we all continued gathering together to learn from one another, networking with each other, and integrating the concepts into our day-to-day work.

If you look at the IMPACT! on safety in the industrial world we have had some of the most impactful people and writings represented that have changed the way safety is looked at and done. People who have attended the CHOLearning conferences are making a difference every day.

It is all about the community. How do we create a legacy that ensures generations to come won’t have to relive the days of blame and shame? How can we ensure they really LEARN and integrate that learning into what they do?

The answer for me is simple. 30 years is just a great start. I probably won’t be around for the next multiple of 30-celebration, so I hope you will join me at this one!

See you in Vegas in June and let’s learn together.

About the author:

ROB FISHER, President and Director of Operations Fisher Improvement Technologies

Rob spent almost ten years in the US Navy before working at the South Texas Nuclear Project for twelve years. During this time he worked in Operations, Radiation Protection, Chemistry, & Environmental and ultimately owned the Human Performance Improvement initiative and the Procedure Program through a difficult plant recovery time. In addition, he was also utilized as an industry internal consultant in these areas. Rob has been consulting since leaving commercial nuclear power operations in 1996.

Rob has extensive experience in performing Incident Analysis, designing Human Performance Improvement systems, designing and improving Corrective Action Programs, assessing, designing and running Procedure Programs, and educating staff. As a previous field and management owner of these areas, he brings an implementation mentality to consulting, along with a recognized capability to make the science practically applicable at all levels. He was involved in developing multiple industry international standards for Human Performance, Root Cause Analysis and Procedure Excellence. He has successfully consulted for over one hundred companies in various fields including manufacturing, petrochemical, power generation (nuclear and non-nuclear), power transmission and distribution, and numerous Department of Energy sites. He consults internationally in over 20 countries.

Rob is a sought-after mentor, coach, author, and trainer, and is routinely invited to speak at international and regional conferences on safety, Performance Improvement, Incident Analysis, and procedures.


Want to hear more from Rob?

Enjoy this 13-minute Highlight Reel from his January CHOLearning Webinar.

132 views1 comment

1 Comment

Thx for helping to pioneer this movement Rob!!

It has to be very gratifying to see it celebrate its 30th birthday! Happy Birthday CHOLearning 🎂!

bottom of page