Two problems frequently afflict plant safety efforts. First, engineers repeat mistakes that caused serious accidents at other sites because they never learned or have forgotten the lessons the initial mishap taught, warned the late safety guru Trevor Kletz (see: “Bhopal Leaves a Lasting Legacy.”) Second, even when reviewing past incidents, staff may discount the chance of errors should a similar situation develop at their site. That’s because reviews typically start by presenting the outcome, which often makes the proper steps that should have been taken to prevent the event all too obvious. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.
“This hindsight bias makes it difficult to objectively review a case study or incident without second-guessing the actions taken by those involved,” notes Trish Kerin, director of the IChemE Safety Centre (ISC), Melbourne, Australia. “The fact is, we cannot ‘unknow’ information, so overcoming hindsight bias is perhaps more difficult than overcoming other types of bias,” she adds.
To tackle this problem and enhance learning, the ISC launched at the Hazards 26 Conference in late May in Edinburgh, Scotland, a series of interactive case studies that approach safety training in a nontraditional way. In the case studies, participants face an event as it occurs, make decisions and see the consequences of their actions, explains Kerin.