New Safety does not bring a new mission. Everyone has desired fewer events and better outcomes from the dawn of time. The divergence is in perspective and methods. New Safety requires we see the world differently. It is a new way of seeing work, workers, errors, violations, safety, and metrics. Many disciplines and thought leaders have converged to create the current understanding of New Safety, emerging from the work of Resilience Engineering, Safety-II, Human Performance (HPI and HOP), SIF reduction, and Safety Differently. All these inputs themselves continue to be impacted by many fields of study, such as organizational psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, sociology, evolutionary biology, and decision theory to name a few.
The view from 30,000 feet
New Safety seeks improved outcomes by improving the human/system interface, making it easy to be successful. After an event, New Safety foremost looks at the system for improvement and increased resilience. When considering workers, New Safety seeks to understand the field adjustments needed to be successful asking how we can provide workers with more capacity and more margin. Old safety seeks safe outcomes by improving the human, focusing on compliance with the system. Looking first at the human in what is assumed to be an otherwise safe and stable system.
To give real meaning to "New Safety" we need to look back at how the current predominant mindset of safety was formed. From the dawn of time, humans have shown a deep need to give meaning and explain what goes on around us. In ancient times negative events were attributed to a lack of moral fiber or just the random act of an angry god, the worse the outcome the more egregious your actions or the angrier the god. The Renaissance ushered in many new branches of science to explain the world and its interactions. This yielded principles, laws, and frameworks to combine and test ideas in the search for answers. Many models and frameworks were created and integrated into nearly all organizational endeavors.
Our focus is modern work and the science of safety.
At the close of the 19th century, work became dominated by group action joining with systems and technology moving from artisan work to industrial factories. In 1911, Frederick Taylor released "The Principles of Scientific Management" into a world poised for radical change.
Scientific Management was a methodology to standardize and optimize work to increase employee productivity. The work was engineered and managed logically; it was demonstrated as possible and a standard was created. The speed of its adoption was staggering, and its far-reaching impact is nigh impossible to overestimate. Taylorism transformed the landscape of labor and became hardwired into the managers and titans of industry. Massive productivity improvements were gained while safety and quality improved as well.
Embedded within Taylorism was the tacit and explicit division where managers design the work and workplace, while frontline employees became merely tools to follow the instructions. When things went bump in the middle of production or an injury occurred the cause of issues was almost exclusively seen as the human being as a bad actor in a scientifically engineered system. The worker was the variable that stood out as we looked at events, so the natural answer that followed was greater adherence to the standard. Taylorism continued to spread and by the early 20th century, workplace psychologists were studying so-called "accident-prone" employees. Rather than look for flaws in their machinery, factory owners would often blame the human component.
One of the first moves toward New Safety happened during World War II. The U.S. Air Force lost nearly two-thirds of all aircraft to non-combat situations. This rate of loss drove the Air Force to seek solutions other than human error, with the only action of reminding pilots not to crash their planes.
In 1943 psychologist Alphonse Chapanis investigated repeated instances of pilots retracting the landing gears, upon touchdown resulting in a crash. Chapanis met with pilots and studied the cockpit layouts. He found the levers that controlled the landing gear and flaps were identical and placed next to each other. Pilots would mistakenly raise their landing gear when they intended to extend the wing flaps to slow the plane.
This environmental error trap was so strong that Chapanis said that, "There are two types of pilots: Those that have landed gear up, and those that will."
After improving the controls to make them more intuitive this failure mode went to zero for the rest of the war. Adherence to the procedure had failed to yield improvement, so the human/system interface was improved. This was an early and broad application of psychology to engineering design and the human interface. For our understanding of the transition to new safety, this represented a case where we acknowledge that the procedure was 100% correct if followed but did not produce reliable outcomes. Slowly more emphasis was given to Human Factors and then the concept of Human Performance.
From 30,000 feet to the deck
Safety and resilience are not defined nor the result of a lack of events. Safety and resilience are the result of the presence of expanding capacity.
Prevention is necessary, but not sufficient by itself. Traditional safety looks at approximately 2% of work activities to learn what to prevent to be “safe.” New Safety broadens the data set to move beyond the event data to also understand how things go well in 98% of activities.
Accidents are preceded by normal success that includes the adjustments necessary to overcome local challenges.
This informative data has not been leveraged in traditional safety efforts. New Safety increases the capability of people and systems to create more things going well. If 100% of activities go well, there is no room for events.
The old safety perspective sees employees working in a system that is safe and stable. We have only to train and then constrain the worker to work within the boundaries. The employee is seen as a problem to control whereas the New Safety view sees employees as a resource. Workers create safety by adapting to the situation and making small adjustments based on the culture and current situation to overcome unexpected challenges.
New Safety focuses on the demands and challenges of work that must be overcome with the goal of making it as easy as possible to do the right thing, and more difficult to do the wrong thing. Traditional safety pursues adherence to life-saving (punishable) rules focused on procedures and processes, while New Safety seeks to understand the embedded challenges in normal work. It also identifies the resources needed to overcome the constraints, goal conflicts, and barriers to success.