Why do organizations repeat safety mistakes?

Do organizations always learn from past safety mistakes? A study by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin reveals the answer isn’t as black-and-white as previously believed. Carla Curtsinger reviews their findings and the implications for HSE leadership training.

Do organizations always learn from past safety mistakes?

A study by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin reveals the answer isn’t as black-and-white as previously thought.

In their analysis of 146 pharmaceutical organizations – one-third of whom had previously committed a ‘serious drug error’ – university researchers offered evidence that while the companies initially increased safety measures and decreased innovation following an event, their safety focus declined over time.

In fact, organizations in the study exhibited cycles of ‘learning and forgetting safety lessons’ following each episode. And as their focus on safety weakened, risks may have increased.

Why would an organization forget safety lessons and repeat mistakes? Researchers pointed to several factors including employee turnover, complacency that may have developed after an extended period of no incidents, or leadership changes.

Being aware of this tendency to forget should inform your ongoing leadership practices and safety training activities.

How does your organization assure that you learn from past mistakes?
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