Performance and Safety: Convergence toward a Meta Model?

On March 3 and 4 the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) hosted the second DOE workshop of a community of practice focused on improving worker safety with concepts and practices informed though the behavior-based safety (BBS) and human performance improvement (HPI) models.  The workshop was well attended by representatives from over a dozen DOE major contractors.  Kudos for an excellently crafted and conducted workshop to Maryrose Montalvo, Jim Kleinsteuber and Todd Conklin and to the Lab’s management hosts Chris Cantwell and Bethany Rich.

A subtle and significant subtext for all the excellent workshop comments was the idea of convergence of models at the level of practical implementation.  All participants use the DOE required Integrated Safety Management (ISM) model as the basis for safety management. Many have long and successful histories of using BBS concepts to promote active worker engagement and ownership of workplace safety efforts.  For example, observations for performance feedback at the individual and, more importantly, institutional level were said to be core to improvement.  ISM and behavioral safety set the stage for achieving formal recognition provided by the Voluntary Protection Program.  Some presenters noted that HPI provides a philosophical perspective that informs next stage improvements; it introduces a systems perspective that focuses on organizational factors.  Other presenters discussed high reliability and resilience models as well as insights being gained from the safety culture model of Edgar Schein and the capability maturity model of safety culture discussed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  (See IAEA-TECDOC-1329, Safety culture in nuclear installations, 2002,

Andrew Hopkins wrote about glimmerings of convergence in 2002 (See Working Paper 7 Safety Culture, Mindfulness and Safe Behaviour: Converging ideas?, December 2002, Andrew Hopkins

More recently Erik Hollnagel has written about emerging convergence of high reliability and resilience schools of thought via the lens of performance ( see Erik Hollnagel, Benoît Journé and Hervé Laroche 2009 Reliability and Resilience as Dimensions of Organizational Performance: introduction M@n@gement, 12 (4), 224-229.

In this 2009 article, Hollnagel notes:  “. . . these (high reliability and resilience) studies have gone beyond their core focus to provide an extremely powerful insight into the workings of the organizations.  . . . we believe that performance marks a crossroads between traditional reliability and resilience issues and economic and management-related concerns both practically (for instance, how safety performance affects financial performance, or how different aspects of performance are reconciled) and theoretically (how the concepts of reliability and resilience can be integrated into and inform common theoretical approaches in management science).”

Models are not absolute; rather they serve as frameworks to help us reflect on how we think and thus help shape how we act.  It is clear from the discussions last week at LANL that many safety and performance improvement practitioners in DOE are reflecting on how different models can inform the practice of improvement in their operations.  It is also clear that this discussion of models is important at the level of management system designers, practitioners if you will, but that implementation of safety and performance enhancements is not well served by introducing needless academic theory and terminology into working level processes and procedures.

The point of interest is that there are glimmerings of convergence within the researcher and practitioner communities.  While we do not have a meta framework and meta language that allow concise representation of this convergence, there is clear evidence of its existence though communities of practices in action as we experienced last week at LANL.  Drawing from Karl Weick, it is through discussion that we create meaning and through meaning that we enact the systems that guide our behavior.

Your thoughts on convergence?

4 Responses to Performance and Safety: Convergence toward a Meta Model?

  1. El Toddo says:

    Convergence….. ahhh convergence…. in the grand scheme of things this word could be swapped in our community of thought with the idea of applied conversations….. what we want and need is the chance to share applied ideas (with a unified vocabulary) with each other….

    Thanks for the blog… it is a chance to do just that.

    Todd out

  2. John Miller says:

    I have spent the last hour + reading this most educationl blog. As a safety and performance improvement practitioner this reading time has given me better insight into why certain initiatives I have championed have been less than successful.

    Question for Earl – How does one go about joining the community that attends conferences like the recent one at LANL. The communication of these forums does not seem to reach me.

    • wecarnes says:

      Hi John; thank you for joining the conversation. I’m delighted you found the article worthwhile. Let me send you an email off line to connect you with the community.


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