As the Product Manager of the Enablon Management of Change (MOC) solution, I heard a multitude of reasons for companies wanting to move from a paper-based MOC system to an electronic one. Some of the most common reasons are:
- Risk awareness: Prioritize site budgets around areas of high concern and ensure employees are aware of hazards in their surroundings.
- Information access: Address the Employee Participation element of OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard by giving employees electronic access to MOCs, Process Safety Information (PSI), Process Hazard Analyses (PHAs), etc. This also allows for the identification and sharing of lessons learned and best practices amongst sites.
- Action plan tracking: Communicate required action plans, send alerts, and ensure actions are resolved in a timely manner.
- Documentation: Make sure documents are centralized, organized, and up-to-date.
- Reporting: Create reports both for sites and for upper-level management.
Each of these reasons has merit and deserves its own discussion, but I want to bring another reason to light. In March 2017, I attended AIChE’s 13th Global Congress on Process Safety and the session on “How Culture Affects the Implementation of Process Safety Program Elements”, presented by Michael Hazzan with AcuTech Group. One of my main takeaways from the session is that the implementation of an electronic MOC system reduces in-person meetings, which eliminates negative group dynamics that could have occurred in those meetings.
Negative Group Dynamics in Meetings
Negative group dynamics take many different forms and they are often difficult for the untrained eye to spot. However, there is good news! After reading about different examples of negative group dynamics, you’ll have many past experiences come to mind and you’ll begin to spot them as they occur in meetings. A few examples of negative group dynamics are: groupthink, groupshift, and cognitive biases.
Groupthink occurs when a group values agreement over the necessary discussions and evaluation. It’s a phenomenon where members of the group automatically follow the word of the leader or strongest personality. It also discourages any disagreement with the group’s consensus. For example, a leader or strong personality in the group thinks that all hazards relating to the MOC have been addressed and declares this in the meeting. Then individual members of the group unquestionably follow this leader, even though they have doubts that all hazards have been properly accounted for.
Groupshift is a phenomenon in which the initial risk positions of individual members of a group are lessened when they work together as a group. In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions because the shared risk makes the individual risk less. For example, an operations team has been working together for over 20 years with no major incidents. Their site has been touted within the company as the site to look at for best practices. As a result, when they meet to evaluate making a change to their facility’s process, they may make a riskier decision which could impact safety.
Cognitive biases are unconscious influences on human judgment that can cause reasoning errors, which then result in illogical decisions. Cognitive biases are everywhere. More than likely, you experience many of them every day. In some contexts, cognitive biases can lead to more effective actions being taken, but there are negative consequences as well. For example, an incident has recently occurred at a facility and a second site has the same process equipment that was the cause of the incident at the first site. When a group is meeting at the second site to discuss proposed process changes, they may be quick to bring up this recent incident and disregard previous (but still applicable) incidents. This is an example of the recency effect, which is the tendency to weigh the latest information more heavily than older data.
Transitioning to Electronic to Reduce In-Person Meetings
With the emergence of electronic MOC systems, reviewing proposed changes in isolation becomes more prevalent. A thoughtful and concerted effort should be made to update business processes and ensure that employees are prepared for the transition.
Of course, there should still be some in-person meetings when necessary and the isolated review shouldn’t be so isolated that the reviewer is cut off from accessing external resources. But ensuring that every reviewer has time to review proposed changes in isolation has some major benefits. One of these benefits consists of reducing the effects of negative group dynamics on MOC decisions, thereby improving decision-making.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the psychology and group dynamics in PHA meetings have been more thoroughly studied due to the nature of PHA meetings (in-person, lengthy, and differing from day-to-day job responsibilities). Companies should make sure to keep group dynamics in mind for all safety-related meetings, whether they are related to PHAs, MOCs, or other.
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