The Weekly Reflektion Week 37 / 2019

This week’s Reflektion is inspired by the HSE philosophy in the kindergarten my son attended. ‘No child should hurt themselves more than what is good for them’.

How can you learn by doing when you are not allowed to fail while doing it?

The HSE philosophy in the kindergarten my son attended is based on the premise that ‘No child should hurt themselves more than what is good for them’. This philosophy acknowledges that children need to learn from experience and within this learning process there is a need to assess and handle risk. There is an acceptance that children may hurt themselves and that the environment cannot be and should not be constructed to protect them 100%. At the same time there is a limitation of what risks the children should be exposed to and serious injuries need to be prevented. The climbing frames are designed and maintained to a high standard and there is a soft surface that reduces the impact of any fall. There is supervision to ensure the children do not behave in a way that could cause them or their playmates any serious harm. There is freedom to use the climbing frame as intended. There were accidents and there was a process for registering, investigating and learning. There was of course, a worst-case scenario of serious injury, however this was effectively the residual risk that the children have to live with. The residual risk is the price of learning.

The child on the climbing frame is learning by experience. This type of learning cannot be achieved by any other means than ‘own’ experience. We can explain, we can write procedures, we can even show films on how to ride a bicycle but these will never substitute for the learning achieved by getting on the bike, turning the pedals and riding into the sunset, or at least to the end of the road. The knowledge gained by this type of learning is ‘tacit’ knowledge and it cannot be transferred to others. We can of course reduce the consequences of the learning process by providing the child with protective equipment, for example a helmet, and by running alongside to catch them if they fall. The last point is of course for these ‘fit’ parents that have the stamina to keep up with the pedalling child.

Learning by experience is an effective learning method, so how can we use this type of learning to develop knowledge that can be used to prevent Major Accidents? How can we create an environment that allows for learning while controlling the consequence of failure?

The aviation industry uses simulators to train pilots. The simulators put the pilots in situations that would lead to a crash unless they react and respond in the right way. The pilots learn by experience and can apply this knowledge in real situations. The pilots can play as much as they like on their “climbing frame”, but they will never hit the ground when they fall. Simulators are also used in the offshore petroleum industry for example in process operations, crane operations, and well control.

Another type of simulation are exercises. Emergency response exercises can be carried out realistically in controlled environments and provide valuable knowledge through learning by experience. Table-top exercises just before the main exercise is a useful tool to prepare the people involved and improve the likelihood that the exercise will succeed.

How do we apply learning by doing to the management of barriers we have in place to prevent a Major Accident? How can we use simulators, exercises or other tools? Can we use what-if scenarios and other techniques to create theoretical situations and then theorise on how the situations can be tackled?

Over the next few weeks we will try to provide some answers to these questions and give some guidance on ‘learning by experience’ in the context of Major Accidents.

Interesting quote from Archibald McLeish, an American poet and writer.  ‘There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, that is not learning from experience.’

Reflekt AS