MMES: All industrial operations, by and large, are carried on in Man-Machine-Environment System (MMES) mode, also referred to as Human Factors Engineering System (HFES) mode, which emphasizes the significance of Human Behaviour at the interfaces of Man – Machine – Environment interaction. Understanding and conforming with this aspect of the industrial equation is important for the safe and efficient execution of the industrial activity.
Another factor intrinsic to this equation, which is often ignored, is to understand, in its full manifestation, the criticality of all three elements of this system as well as its scope and impact by the managers/engineers/supervisors leading the team that has been entrusted to any task - be it operation, maintenance, services or any other associated activity.
Machine Component and Re-engineering: In an industrial scenario, let’s first take the machine component of MMES that includes all process equipment/plant/machinery etc. and the extension thereof, and services like maintenance associated therewith.
This Machine component of the MMES can be programmed/reprogrammed to perform in a particular fashion/mode, including auto mode to lessen dependence on human behaviour/effort, though one can’t eliminate the need of human intervention, as behind every machine there is invariably a man, even if AI is applied to the system that may limit human intervention.
That’s why plants are upgraded or modernized from time to time to enhance the rate of production and take care of the deficiency in the process. It is also initiated to meet the requirements of changed circumstances and other associated factors.
As we can see and the experience is there for us to infer, modifying the Machine component can be made possible by redesigning/reengineering and budgeting and incurring the required capital expenditure on account of the changes foreseen.
Re-engineering Environment Component: Though tougher than modifying the Machine component, the physical component of Environment can also be reengineered. But the cost of revising the physical component of Environment could be cost-prohibitive and may therefore prove a deterrent, but not unsurmountable. If the company is willing to go through the process of change after detailed cost-benefit analysis, the desired change can be made through technical upgradation and intervention.
However, we have to take into account the reality that Environment in the workplace consists of at least two components related to MAN component of MMES - physical and psychological - and the theme of this Workshop is primarily designed to deal with this psychological aspect that may be adversely impacted in the absence of safety ownership and related safety leadership. If we can’t improve the psychological component of the workplace environment, we may not be able to achieve our ultimate objective of safety culture transformation.
Re-programming MAN Component & Achieving Safety Culture Transformation: The psychological aspect of Man component of the system, as you may know, is something different and cannot be re-programmed in the same manner and as easily as the other two components of the MMES System i.e., Machine and physical component of Environment.
However, the human component, even if management succeeds in controlling and/or reducing man-power requirements through automation, engineering, revising process, redesigning plant and equipment etc., the human component would continue to play a critical role, rather a decisive role, in the matter of implementing a safety improvement plan through a gradual safety culture transformation – our ultimate objective.
How Human Behaviour (more often, than not) Adversely Impacts Development of a Sound and a Good Intentioned Safety Improvement Plan: The Man with his/her perception, experience, exposure, upbringing, social background, personal beliefs, faith, prejudices, biases and such other psycho-social factors has already been programmed through his/her birth, growth, education, workplace experiences etc.
Reorienting or reprogramming the acquired personal attributes and traits are already implanted/programmed through one’s growing years and thus unlearning what he would have learnt though different phases of growth, though achievable, is not easily achieved. Experience shows that deeply entrenched personal traits cannot be reoriented or reprogrammed easily. They can be but will require a long and continuous effort by the team managers and leaders to organize reorientation of the mindset of the Man component of the MMES System under his/her control. Since all team leaders are not expected to be psychoanalysts nor are they expected to have the skills of a specialist, dependence on interpersonal soft skills, is predicated for managers, engineers, supervisors, and team leaders.
Basic Requirement of a Successful Safety Leader: Having accepted that dependence on soft skills is the basic requirement of being a leader and that being a successful leader in the industrial scenario, requires being owners of all elements associated with the task. What you are not co-owning you can’t suitably change as your efforts, however sincere, would most likely be deemed to be an outsider’s interference by the close-knit team members executing the task.
Now let’s see if safety component of the task is integral to the wholesomeness of the task in hand. Every activity/ sub-activity associated with the task at the interfaces – be it man-machine or man-environment or machine-environment interface – has some element of hazard that must be managed objectively for carrying through the activity safely and efficiently.
Disruption in the industrial activity arising out of the adverse consequences of an unplanned event resulting in severe physical harm or serious material damage or environmental degradation does prove to be a deterrent in terms of huge financial cost and downtimes, besides strained human relations and social unrest.
The underlying theme of this Workshop is to persuade participant-managers to be owning safety and being safety leaders. It’s rightly said that safety can’t happen, it must be worked for; also, safety can’t be achieved by chance, rather it must be ensured by choice.
The need to understand the relevance of MMES to creating a safety climate and consequent safety culture is more than apparent. As a matter of fact, Safety Climate and Safety Culture are heavily dependent on the Human Behaviour that is borne out of the environment which surrounds him/her as well as how he/she perceives relevance and importance of industrial safety and occupational health component of the task that he/she has been assigned with. The workforce’s understanding of the risk associated with the task being undertaken may be (more often, than not) at great variance with that of his/her process controller’s.
Recurring near-misses, first-aid cases, lost-time personal injuries, fatalities, and extensive damage to process equipment that invariably disrupts the process in a workplace, do indicate, apart from pointing to something amiss in the Machine component, the inherent deficiency in the psycho-social skills that the activity requires of the workforce engaged - in terms of critical planning of various components of the activities associated with the task, as also treating control systems specified in the approved procedure sacrosanct; rather, these requisites are critically unavoidable.
If critical safety planning as an integrated part of the process/service activity is developed and the taskforce works to the plan, the process/services can be carried out safely. This situation will help reinforce preventive, corrective as well as develop control measures to avoid unplanned events from occurring. Unfortunately, in our part of the industrial world, over dependence on the personal protective equipment (PPE) is considered as an ultimate solution to the safety problems. It is rightly said, PPE is the last line of defense, yet we seem to heavily depend on PPE as our all-weather friend.
Root-cause analysis of various unplanned events like fatalities, explosions and such other events occurring in manufacturing and construction establishments would invariably reveal that some deviant human behaviour along with some minor process deviation or compromises are primarily responsible for such unplanned events. And there lies the relevance of Ownership of Safety and Safety Leadership by the heads and seniors of the team in carrying out the assigned task safely.
Having discussed the relevance of all three components of the MMES System and having identified the safety issues that may crop up because of deficiency in human behaviour, it can be surmised that the critically important aspect of human behaviour is at the root of creating a safety climate and consequent safety culture in the workplace. However, many senior management representatives tend to believe that it is not the default or the root of the default, but it is the defaulter who must be held accountable as a person responsible. This erroneous conclusion may help discipline some defaulters, but the root cause will remain untreated. This would require a thorough unravelling of the Machine & Environment components and their interfaces as well.
The Workshop on creating Ownership of Safety and Safety Leadership: Designed for safety culture transformation, the workshop will address the ‘ought to be’ and ‘ought not to be’ factors associated with the promotion and improvement of safety performance. The Workshop is loaded with interactive sessions to be conducted in a dynamic environment and designed to challenge the participants to involve themselves in seeking the ‘why’ in root cause analysis of fatal/serious accidents and come up with corrective/preventive measures through case studies offered to different groups of participants led by their nominated leaders. Additionally, the sessions are designed to stimulate rethinking that could help create safety ownership and promote safety leadership among the participants.
Who Should Attend the Workshop? Only such delegates should be nominated to attend the Workshop who are from the group of decision-makers and who head taskforces that are assigned to carry out hazardous activities. Such participants by the end of the day-long programme would have enough inputs motivating them to give importance to the safety component of the task being assigned or performed through focusing on the Man component of the MMES. However, it has been assumed that the Machine and physical Environment component of the MMES system are in order and therefore, this Workshop will not delve into these aspects.
Process Owner’s Expected Contribution to the Proceedings of the Workshop: Presentations by the nominated Group Leaders are designed to throw open the whole house for discussions to gauge participants’ understanding, reception, and assimilation of the inputs that the Workshop will generate.
About the author
R K Poddar has held various senior posts as:
Ex-Head Safety Engineering of L&T-Construction
Ex-Head Safety Engineering of Simplex Infrastructures
Ex-HSE Consultant of Bureau Veritas India
Ex-Associate Director of Indian Institute of Production Management
Ex-Member, Board of Governors of National Safety Council of India
Visiting Faculty, CIDC, NICMAR, CII & others