The Human Factors Master Program at Lund University includes a number of Learning Laboratories (follow the links for more information). The first Learning Lab kicking off the Master program for 2016 and 2017 took place from 18 to 23 January 2016. Present were 15 students enrolling into their Master Human Factors and an additional 10 ‘externals’ present just for the Learning Lab ‘Critical Thinking in Safety’ which was led by Johan ‘JB’ Bergström and Anthony ‘Smokes’ Smoker.

Participants came from all over the world, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Italy, Singapore, Qatar, The Emirates (probably forgot some - sorry!) and a wide variety of sectors, including maritime, rail, road and air traffic, police, military, medicine/patient care, pharmaceutical industry, biological safety, software release and information security (note the absence of oil & gas!) with backgrounds in accident boards, regulators and industry. A nice variation that would facilitate many great discussions.

Day One

The first half of Day One was spent on introduction and general information of the Master Program (which appears to be quite intense, but something I definitely want to do in the future). As JB said it’s “a program aimed to harness diversity”. Also the aim of the Learning Lab is not about teaching right or wrong human factor models, but about developing critical and analytical skills and asking critical questions. Paraphrasing Claude Lévi-Strauss: “what theory is good to think with”, or “what language is good to think with”. Jokingly he said we might be very confused on the final day, but at least “confused on a higher level”.

One of the things that came up during the introduction was how to talk about safety with people who don’t have safety in their everyday vocabulary. It’s important to look at things from their perspective! People at the sharp end aren’t interested in fancy theories, often they want something bite-size. But: don’t belittle them! They are often highly trained professionals in their fields, so watch out for a parental tone!

After lunch work started properly with a discussion of a couple of (newspaper) articles dealing with the November 1989 incident of a Boeing 747 during approach of Heathrow airport flew very closely over a hotel and caused some commotion. We were shown various narratives that highlighted different elements and then challenged to find ‘controversial’ items from the article and then take a different view that would make it not controversial.

An important lesson from this exercise: There isn’t an objective truth. It all depends upon the analytical choices you make. If you call something controversial that is your analytical choice. If you choose to defend a decision as non-controversial this is another analytical choice.

The final part of the day was used constructing an ‘old view - new view mindmap’ (see picture below, click to enlarge). One interesting observation (not yet noted in the picture) was that both views have an optimistic view on safety: you can learn from incidents and improve.

The usage of the labels ‘old’ and ‘new’ (or Safety I and II, if you want) is sometimes unproductive as it may suggest a notion of ‘old’ being outdated, something to be replaced or wrong. While one might want do discard some applications, it’s not a case of ‘new’ being better. Opposing the two can be unproductive; they are complementary tools, or rather sets of tools. As one of the participants remarked: “The idea that the two are separate is contrary to the new view”.

Another participant remarked later in the course that an important criterion for choosing what view to work with was the question what view give the best opportunity for prevention in the specific situation.

An interesting discussion arose when the question was raised how rules and regulations fit into this. Also the new view needs some kind of authority or regulator. One way forward would be from compliance based towards performance based. Rasmussen already in 1989 stressed that competence of the regulator would be important.

Another interesting insight was that patients, their family and other victims may not accept a ‘new view’ explanation (ref. Scott Snook’s “Friendly Fire”). There may very well be situations where one finds that their ‘needs’ deserve to be prioritized which leads to an ‘old view message’. Society sometimes demands different things than we professionals might want. This is a question of power and ethics. What story do we want to tell? Whose perspective does one want to satisfy? And, consequently, who are we going to hurt?!

>>> To DAY 2