Safety Starts with the Human Factor

Written by: Sucheta Govil

Sometimes, it takes a little reminder for us to recognize the value of things. On April 28, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work reminds us that we all play a part to ensure a safe and healthy work culture. As a leading player in the chemical industry, we are bound to also be a leader in safety. My colleague Carsten Rosner, who supervises the Team Resource Management Trainings at Covestro, and I were recently interviewed about how we define, foster, and live a culture of safety and taking care of one another every day at Covestro.

We are all human, which means we make mistakes. But when there is machinery or chemicals involved, accidents can have serious consequences. Sucheta, how do you and other leaders at Covestro drive awareness of safety within the company?

SG: Safety has always been of paramount importance for us at all levels. The safety of employees, production processes and plants are at the core of our business. Our vision is an accident-free company, working towards this goal is a commitment we make every day. Covestro  has around 18,000 employees and sites all over the world. So, we need to take a close look at what factors contribute to a safe working environment and how it is possible to ensure the safety of highly complex production facilities at all times.

What role does an organization's culture play in the topic of safety?

SG: Let me be clear about this, trainings and safety guidelines are one thing, but a company’s culture is what makes all the difference in really living safety every day. At Covestro, employees are aware of their responsibility for the processes, themselves, and others. Their effort is the reason why Covestro has had a great track record in safety in recent years. Bottom line – we have made a lot of progress, but we are not there yet.

Carsten, how can “the human factor” be taken as an asset rather than a risk?

CR: Human influence on potentially dangerous situations can be multifaceted. Sometimes, people underestimate a hazardous situation. Sometimes, there are misunderstandings. There are a few human factors that, in sequence, can lead to accidents. If we are aware of human imperfection and, therefore, the need for mutual protection, we can act proactively and foster true cultural change.

What is Covestro’s way of dealing with this challenge?

CR: We employ a mosaic of programs, awareness trainings, and coaching. One of them is a behavioral training called Team Resource Management (TRM). It is based on systematic accident research and was successfully implemented in aviation in the late seventies to address this interrelated set of human factors that can cause or prevent accidents. Remember the famous emergency landing on the Hudson River? Both pilots indicated that TRM was integral to the success of the accident flight.

TRM has been adapted to other high-risk industries, and Covestro decided to adapt this concept as a pioneer in the chemical industry, too. Our external partner is a company of active aircraft captains and instructors experienced in TRM trainings. Over a two-day training, the plant and maintenance teams experience the impact of human errors and practice how to get around them in a simulation. They analyze real Covestro case studies and reflect their communication behavior and error culture. In the end, they go back to their workplace with a set of tools and strategies for their daily routine, applying what they learned in a structured approach.

How do you think learning from aviation encourages progress in safety culture, Sucheta?

SG: I was really impressed when I did the training myself recently! I realized how easily we make mistakes due to lack of awareness or misunderstandings – but also that we can train to avoid them. Aviation and the chemical industry have many parallels: Both employ highly technically trained personnel and try to solve risks and problems primarily through technology. But we will not achieve the goal of an accident-free company with technology alone. To achieve this goal, we all need social, communicative, and psychological skills. With trainings like TRM we can learn to evaluate our own behavior and that of others, to assess situations correctly, to make decisions and avoid mistakes. Teamwork has been proven to increase safety in production operations – as a team we can create a healthy and safe work environment.

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