Many health and safety accidents happen because of systemic failures in the workplace, not just negligence – that is according to Wits University’s Professor Kobus de Jager, who presents a course at the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI) to address precisely those failures.

The five-day course – entitled Safety and Health Leadership and Human Factors – equips managers and practitioners with a holistic picture of how their organisation’s culture and systems make people behave.

“The focus on Human Factors in the course helps us to look at people in context – inside and outside the workplace – and unpack how we understand human error,” said Professor De Jager. “Human beings and systems are not perfect. They evolve and change as different pressures act on them, as processes and procedures change.”

People bring a substantial level of creativity and innovation to their workplaces every day, as a vital part of their productive input, he said; but this can also lead to risks.

“We all know that people are fallible, but we often don’t recognise the inherent value of people’s daily decisions to deal with the unexpected,” said Professor De Jager. “Without this personal initiative, most organisations would grind to a halt.”

The problem is when these independent decisions go wrong, and where misjudgements take place that lead to accidents.

The course highlights where the systemic failures could exist within organisations, which creates the ‘error traps’ where accidents become inevitable. It takes participants through the interdependencies of their health and safety systems, giving them a better understanding of cause and effect.

Among the areas examined in the course are safety and health leadership strategies, and the interdependencies between leadership components and health and safety systems. It also looks into human factors and human error in health and safety, and the application of behavioural safety theory and methods.

Accredited at NQF Level 9, the course requires delegates to be competent on a graduate level, but they can choose to complete it for a Certificate of Competence (requiring assessment through an exam and assignment) or just for a Certificate of Attendance.

An overseas participant who recently completed the course was Zeeshan Asgar, a lecturer in business studies, economics and strategy from the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan. Currently studying mineral economics and policy at Wits University, Asgar was impressed by the way the course challenged the whole class’s perceptions about behaviour change in the health and safety sphere.

“It was able to make us re-think our own attitudes, which was a good indication of what could be achieved in the workplace with this teaching,” said Asgar. “Those five days changed the way we looked at safety and health. I think that everyone – in every department of any sort of organisation – would benefit from this course.  In mining, of course, it has a special relevance because of the dangerous and challenging nature of the working environment.”

Professor De Jager has almost 40 years of experience in the mining industry, With an MSc in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Mining Engineering, he has been an Honorary Adjunct Professor at Wits University since 2004. He is also Director: Mining & Energy Infrastructure at Hatch Goba in Johannesburg.

The next course will run 15-19 September 2014

For more information, or to register, contact Salamina Tlhwaele, course coordinator at Wits Commercial Enterprise, on 011 717 1188 or Salamina.Tlhwaele@wits.ac.za or Lileen Lee at the CSMI on 011 717 7037 or Lileen.lee@wits.ac.za.

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