Domtar's Journey with Human Performance Improvement
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Domtar's Journey with Human Performance Improvement

By Larry Warren, Senior Director of Pulp & Paper Safety, Domtar

Larry Warren, Senior Director of Pulp & Paper Safety, Domtar

Domtar, a leading manufacturer of pulp, paper and absorbent hygiene products, has driven safety improvements for the past five years by utilizing principles of Human Performance Improvement (HPI).

The company, with nearly 10,000 employees in several countries, set a goal to decrease its recordable injury rate and, particularly, its rate of life-altering injuries.

In 2013, Domtar safety leaders attended a Pulp & Paper Safety Association conference focusing on human behavior. While there, they were introduced to the principles of Human Performance Improvement, and those principles have driven the company’s safety journey ever since.

HPI has enabled our growing understanding of human behavior and the impact on our overall, and specifically safety, performance as a part of ongoing efforts to prevent injuries, said Bill Edwards, Domtar’s vice presidentof communication paper manufacturing.

The concept is based on work by the U.S. Department of Energyto reduce the likelihood of errors and the potential for a catastrophic result.

HPI involves three major areas – philosophy, investigation and error reduction tools. Itsphilosophy centers on these ideas:

• All people make mistakes.

• Errors are predictable, preventable and manageable.

• A person’s performance is influenced by organizational processes and values.

• It is possible to reduce future errors and minimize the effects in a just culture where employees are treated fairly and a response to errors is appropriate and focuses on learning.

The investigation process builds on the philosophy. If errors are something people did not intend to do, what made them act that wayat that moment? Part of the process deals is determining what may have led to the decision that resulted in the error. The process also focuses on determining the gap between work as imagined – what leaders thought or expected – and work as actually performed.

The decisions leading to the event are analyzed through a “just culture”decision tree. Domtar leaders found this often sheds light on reasons for the gap between work imagined and performed.

About 55 percent of events are the result of latent organizational weakness, requiring strong leadership integrity and commitment to respond appropriately.The final piece of the investigation process is creating corrective actions to eliminate the gap between work as imagined and performed.

The third element of HPI is its error reduction tools.

Domtar’s experience in adopting HPI is probably similar to others’, Edwards said.Deploying training and the investigation methods can happen fairly quickly. Even though people are exposed to the philosophy as part of the training, it takes some time for it to begin to take hold during investigations. After colleagues gain a deeper understanding of the process, the value in both the philosophy and error reduction tools become apparent.

Edwards pointed to three keys to Domtar’s implementation:

• HPI is not just a safety program, it’s about human behavior and how itinfluences everything people do.

• Don’t let it become a “get out of jail free” card. HPI does not mean no one should be held accountable

• Be judicious. Resources do not allow for an HPI investigation of every error. Apply it where the potential for significant negative outcomes exists – especially life-altering injuries.

HPI requires leadership commitment and consistency over time to allow the culture to develop, Warren said, while investigation outcomes highlight opportunities to utilize prevention tools. Working together, these three pillars can drive a safer culture.

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