Most organisations take a random approach when it comes to commitment around projects intended to improve work design, according to a human-centred design expert.
While such activities are often strongly anchored in physical ergonomics, they are rarely generated by a focus on the aspects of cognitive or organisational ergonomics – although these areas may overlap, said Sara Pazell, Managing Director of consulting firm Viva Health at Work.
Examples of this overlap include a participatory ergonomics project for manual task risk management, review of new capital equipment for procurement, or environmental work design for a fit-out.
On rare occasion, Pazell said the work design may focus on something related to cognitive ergonomics and systems changes like training and competency methods in the business.
“These projects tend to always have some measure of success in areas of improved health opportunities, productivity and efficiency, or risk reduction, so this is good news,” said Pazell, who was speaking ahead of a webinar which will be held on Thursday 8 August 2019.
“However, my research, informed by case study, program review, and questionnaire and interview with experienced practitioners and managers, indicated that if projects were part of an ongoing program within a resilient or enterprising organisation, the extent of project success was six times greater, on average.”
Pazell observed that there are challenges for organisations to adopt these practices, because it involves a change in thinking and pervasive leadership support starting at the Board and executive or C-suite level.
“Without this, the likelihood of the development and management of a sustainable, comprehensive, and well-managed program is low,” said Pazell.
“When projects are initiated and supported by one critical team leader or manager, the impetus for change and growth often leaves when they do.
There are a number of common gaps and challenges (and, thus, opportunities) for organisations:
- A viewpoint focussed only on pathology, risk, and containment without the complementary positive-psychology (salutogenic) views about opportunity and possibility for innovation
- Leadership support that has a healthy balance of risk tolerance and risk aversion; an allowance for experimentation and iterative design process must be made
- Real consultation and participation with workers, maintainers, and related parties who can be invited to be part of the analysis and creation of superior work and product design
- Design skillset, methods, and tools
- Practices that focus on the maintenance of general hazard registers rather than a focused, intelligent practice identifying opportunity and risks housed within a contextualised task-based library
- Data capture of hazards, risks, and near misses, without capturing near-rights (“work arounds”), and work design opportunities, with analysis of the extent of the potential opportunity (benefit analysis)
- Job analyses that are generated to satisfy occupational rehabilitation and medicologeal defenses without extending the work to the realm of understanding about work design in all facets – recruitment, design for diversity, equipment procurement, task performance, work system flow and timetabling, and environmental design, for example.
- A viewpoint that health and wellbeing require separate objectives from safety, and business improvement or productivity and quality targets are separate again; rather than recognising the overlapping features and objectives that could be anchored by the same task, equipment/product or environmental design change
- A lack of integration among business units to advance good work design practices
- Tracking and reporting lag indicators rather than identifying, measuring, and reporting performance per leading indicators for good work design
- A lack of establishment or consensus about design concepts and features that support organisational strategy
- Seeking design specialist advisory services and then assigning a narrow scope of work that aligns with past performance rather than allowing for transformation
- Ever-shifting goals and lack of long-term vision. Sweeping and radical changes without alignment to strategic performance objectives
- The assumption that humans are liabilities in a work system
- The lack of integration of these requirements throughout the supply chain
- The assumptions that steady state systems are as “right” as they can be, and all efforts should be made to control risks and regulate the system versus recognise dynamic opportunities to optimise a system on an ongoing basis
However, Pazell said there are also a number of steps organisations can take to shape their competitive profile and advance good work design in their business. These include:
- Gather literature, guidelines, and standards – read and learn about this topic and disseminated this literature among decision makers, including case studies and program reviews to help stimulate interest. Educate the top tier leadership and filter this throughout other decision makers as well as training to operational teams. The question should be, “How can we not …?” versus “Why should we …?”
- Address the opportunities at a Board level and recruit or train representatives to champion the cause.
- Recruit and train design champions in the business; seek out specialists in human-centred design, human factors, and ergonomics to lead these teams.
- When working with a design consultant for advice, take the advice, or at least evaluate it with a prudent but appreciative approach.
- Develop working documents or materials and training that makes sense in the business to reflect the commitment to human-centred design.
- Identify design concepts and features, supported by positive performance measures that will advance the programs
- Commit to the long-term vision and establish the foundation and framework of a resilient and sustainable program with a 5-year commitment to begin
- Develop design-based working groups, or design champions, equipped with skillset, resource, tools, and freedom to make some autonomous decisions within established parameters to mobilise these efforts among other operations and related team members.
- Identify tasks in the business requiring review and undertake comprehensive task and job analyses that provides more than observational reporting but includes effective analysis and recommendations for improvement.
- For physical ergonomics, begin with a fundamental participatory ergonomics program that is interlinked with performance objectives of multiple business units.
- For cognitive ergonomics, analyse human factors requirement of work and equipment interface and identify touch points for improvement – for example, changes to competency and training methods, communication systems and immersive technology or simulated environments that can support performance, environmental design, or similar.
- Seek out examples of what “good” looks like and study success; share ideas, visit reputable organisations (including outside your industry), attend conferences, and invite scholars to speak to your organisation.
For health and safety professionals, Pazell also said there are emerging trends in their theory and practice: resilience engineering, safety differently, safety II, and human organisation performance precepts.
These have emerged owing to the infusion of evidence provided by human-centred design, human factors, and ergonomics, according to Pazell: “to look at a system and seek factors of resilience and reinforce and augment features that regulate and improve system performance, not just gamble on the efforts that might mitigate risk,” she said.
Understanding the varieties of human work (Shorrock, 2016) is also an important approach to understanding system performance.
In these models, humans are viewed as part or innovators of a solution, rather than a risk by their very existence (unpredictability being a hallmark).
Holistic viewpoints are also emerging with the advent of Total Worker Health too, added Pazell, who said there are accrediting standards such as the International Well Building Institute for health in the built environment, an ergonomics credit associated with the Green Building Council for fit-outs, and Good Design Awards Australia (and other safety association awards) that recognise this human-centred approach.
“Of course, technology trends cannot be overlooked because they may afford efficiencies, communication breakthroughs, or the benefit of providing immersive environments to enhance learning, design, health, safety, and wellbeing,” she said.
“In my own work, I try and help extend the thinking of health and safety managers to give equal importance to the “health” element of work design as much as safety. I call this the “flipped” conceptual model for OHS, based on the model developed by SIA (AIHS).”
A conceptual approach to OHS “flipped”: Toward good work design – a salutogenic approach; adapted from the conceptual model for OHS
There are a number of implications in the above for OHS leaders, according to Pazell, who said that OHS leaders need to allow themselves to become uncomfortable and be prepared to embrace new thinking, tools and methods.
“Invite design specialists into the fold and integrate efforts across multiple business units,” she said.
“Advance an agenda and empower a design champion internally with the objective to seek opportunities for transformation in the business – technological, communication, training/education, team development, and work systems (including tasks, equipment, tools, environments, and processes).”
The implications for the OHS leader include becoming a strategist beyond technical speciality practice in order to influence the leadership and create collaborative partnerships inter- and intra-organisationally, and cross-industry.
As such, she said OHS leaders should also seek technical specialists (like occupational hygiene, ergonomics, structural design, legal, or finance) and develop a fold of project-based consultants that can offer fluid, agile, evidence-based, and quality solutions to the business.
Pazell will be presenting a webinar on good work design and strategies for embedding human-centred design into your organisation on Thursday 8 August 2019 from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm (AEST). For more information or to register please visit the AIHS website
Article originally published by the Australian Institute of Health and Safety.