There is an on-going concern among business leaders today to identify methods to prevent errors in all aspects of their operations. From health care to manufacturing to R&D to transportation, errors can, and do, adversely affect diverse aspects of what we do each day at home or at work. The results can be costly, and even tragic.

Errors are caused by a multitude of factors and can result in untold human suffering, as well as material and financial loss. Safety, health and environmental incidents and resulting injuries and illnesses, and even fatalities offer a worst-case scenario. Ships running aground, explosions, spills and releases, incorrect shipments, patients receiving the wrong medication and treatment, damaged equipment hampering production and profits, are only some of the possible results. The short and long range effects are unfathomable. Memories of the Exxon Valdez, 3 Mile Island, and Bhopal still haunt us today.

Since 1983, we have studied and addressed the various human factors that cause errors, which can result in incidents and breakdowns related to overall productivity including defects, injuries and health/environmental incidents. This paper addresses research and findings related to the cultural influences and human factors that cause errors and examine the awareness, skills, and strategies needed to achieve operating excellence.

It also describes the awareness and skills essential to error reduction and elimination. The result is potential improvement in the quality of the systems, products and services, as well as, the safety, health and well being of employees, customers, and public citizens. Regardless of their position or level of experience, everyone operating in the marketplace needs to work optimally, with the least chance for error. In this way, organizations become more successful and better able to carry out their missions, minimizing negative consequences in a multitude of areas.

A Demanding Marketplace

Preventing errors is a challenge in today's demanding and fast-paced business climate. Our competitive markets and the need to deliver in all circumstances require that personnel are highly trained, capable and aware. Across the board employees must be able to recognize the importance of taking personal responsibility for their own performance and the performance of others. They must be able to think in a multi-dimensional manner, focus and respond to changing situations, make good decisions and perform under pressure.

One of the most important hedges against errors is teamwork. Because of the complex roles and responsibilities that personnel have taken on (or have been handed) the importance of teamwork cannot be underestimated. Working independently in most situations is an illusion, and typically does not contribute to maximum effectiveness. Functioning as a team requires that employees have the skills to communicate, cooperate, and support each other in both routine and emergency situations. They need the peace of mind that the system in which they operate supports them as individuals and as team members.

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