Role of the Human Brain in Workplace Injuries and Accidents: “Brain-Centered Hazards”

May 12, 20168:31 am
Generic placeholder image

Front-line workers and leaders alike are taught to observe their work environments for physical, technological, and behavioural elements that can cause or contribute to personal injuries and/or organizational accidents.

The purpose of hazard identification is to determine the right hierarchy of controls, beginning with elimination of the hazard or substitution of materials and processes.

By applying recent neuroscience research to human performance in the workplace, Susan L. Koen, organizational psychologist and CEO/Founder of RoundTheClock Resources, Inc., a strategic partner of DEKRA Insight has discovered some troubling facts: existing organizational cultures and procedures aren’t aligned with the reality of how the human brain functions. The outcome is increased risk from what Dr.Koen has identified as brain-centered hazards.

“A great deal of progress in personal and process safety has been made through effective identification of hazards. But what if potential hazards are housed in the human brain? And, what if these brain-centered hazards are exacerbated by the fact that critical organizational elements—including work environments, technological interfaces, operating procedures, work schedules and even work cultures—are not aligned with how the human brain actually works?” commented Dr. Koen.

In a newly released whitepaper, “Brain-Centered Hazards: Risks & Remedies,” Koen outlines several brain-centered hazards and also sheds light on:

  • How the brain’s dual-process system can hamper human performance reliability
  • How brain fatigue impairs reasoning and elevates risk-taking
  • Clear examples of how to align organizational systems with the human brain
  • The role leaders play in building brain-centered solutions into their safety systems

From a safety and reliability perspective, numerous brain-centered hazards are created when one or more employees are operating with moderate to severe cognitive fatigue, whether acute or cumulative in nature. For one, employees cannot effectively “think ahead” or conceptualize solutions for problems that start to emerge.

See: Prosecutions stepped up against hazardous workplaces, minister says

The thinking, reasoning and troubleshooting capabilities of the Slow Brain—the capabilities that serve as a person’s best defenses from harm at work—are not functioning effectively (or at all) when sleep-deprived. In addition, humans lose their self-awareness capabilities when cognitively fatigued, resulting in the inability to assess how impaired they actually are.

Given that fatigue is experienced by 39% to 67% of the workforce worldwide every day, it is not surprising that cognitive fatigue is viewed as the number one brain-centered hazard in modern workplaces.

Koen continues, “Companies cannot continue with operations-as-usual that leave brain-centered hazards unidentified or unaddressed. Instead, new brain-aligned operational and safety defenses must be instituted to reduce exposures to these hazards.”Brain-Centered Hazards

How can leaders introduce implication of this new science in daily workings?

Reflecting on the hierarchy of controls for addressing workplace hazards, it is clear that companies cannot eliminate potential brain-centered hazards altogether as that would require the elimination of all humans from the business.

Even substitutions typically are not a viable approach, especially in process industries or labour-intensive industries where automation cannot fully replace humans. Rather, what must be done in all companies where humans perform safety-critical job tasks is the implementation of new systemic layers of defense that are designed to drive Brain-Centric Reliability™ into all human actions.

More specifically, leaders have to re-think and re-design their worksites, instituting organizational and team structures, systems, practices, and procedures that are brain-aligned. The effective activation and essential engagement of employees’ capabilities for conscious cognition must be supported at the organizational, team, and individual levels of the enterprise.

For this reason, everything from the organizational culture and leadership messaging to job designs, workforce training, work schedules, team dynamics, operating procedures, human machine interfaces, and even incident investigations need to be revamped to align with new brain science.

The data-driven selection of brain-aligned solutions for the organizational, team and individual levels of the enterprise enables company leaders to deliver deep and lasting human performance reliability.

Also read: MOM steps up efforts as workplace injuries rise

Image credit: midlandladders.com