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March 12, 2024

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Trailblazer in Health & Safety Winner: Dr Marcin Nazaruk on how to apply LFNW in practice

The founder of Psychology Applied won the Trailblazer in Health and Safety category at the SHP Awards in December 2023. He talks to SHP about the Learning from Normal Work (LFNW) approach and how its tools and techniques can help companies proactively identify accident precursors so they can reduce risks, minimise injuries and prevent costly mistakes.   

Marcin Nazaruk holding his SHP Trailblazer Winner trophy

It was in September 2022 that Dr Marcin Nazaruk left his position as Human Performance and Culture Leader at global energy technology firm Baker Hughes to set up training and consultancy company Psychology Applied. 

Informed by his psychology background, Marcin had held a succession of strategic roles in the global energy sector since 2010.  

Over the next 12 years, he spent considerable time on the frontline interacting with individuals at all levels of the organisational hierarchy across different operations, immersing himself in the realities of work experienced by workers, supervisors, managers, directors and vice presidents. This practical experience gave him unique insights on human and safety performance in a dynamic industry.  

The unrivalled corporate experience he accumulated with companies such as Alcoa, SSE, British Petroleum (BP) and finally Baker Hughes, combined with a cross-disciplinary academic background, shaped his thinking in this area.  

It eventually prompted him to start a consultancy that provides companies with cutting-edge practical solutions and ultimately helps them transform their organisational cultures.  

Through the combination of human operational performance (HOP), human factors and safety II thinking, Marcin has made significant contributions to a proactive safety approach known as Learning From Normal Work (LFNW), which identifies the precursors of accidents before they occur so businesses can take preventative action.  

It all started in Marcin’s native Poland where he graduated with an MSc in psychology in the mid-2000s. According to his website, he has always been “fascinated by culture change”, but to become an expert in this field, it was clear he needed to undertake further academic studies.  

After moving to the UK, Marcin graduated with a practitioner Ph.D. in applied safety science and followed this with an MBA. He also undertook a broad range of other qualifications in the areas of training, coaching, project management, or managing change, and achieving chartered status in three domains: safety, psychology, and management. 

Psychology meets safety 

However, gaining these qualifications made Marcin realise that he had a fresh perspective on safety, one that differed from the risk management practices he’d studied in safety courses or observed in companies.  

“Psychology allowed me to take a different angle compared to what the safety professionals would focus on,” he says. 

“There was a gap between models and frameworks available in different fields of psychology, and what was being done in practice.” 

Throughout his safety career, Marcin applied the psychology lens to exploring behaviours, unsafe conditions and incidents to see what lessons could be learned to reduce the likelihood of future failures. It’s also where the philosophy behind LFNW first took root.  

During his time at BP, Marcin was responsible for the development and roll out of the global HOP strategy. He also helped foster leadership buy-in for the application of HOP principles across the business’ operations, drawing on a range of tools from psychology, human factors, human reliability and others that proactively identify where an error can happen and how to prevent them in the first place.  

Thanks to his time spent on the frontline, Marcin was able to translate complex concepts into simple stories and tools in a way that frontline workers understood and could apply it through their work. 

Towards the end of his BP career, Marcin co-designed a toolkit on human factors in incident investigations, which was published by the Energy Institute. This practical guide explains how OSH practitioners can integrate human factors with the investigation process and includes tools such as fatigue analysis and human error analysis.  

By combining HOP principles, human factors and Safety II thinking, Marcin began to explore a more proactive safety approach, based on the recognition that the conditions which create accidents are not actually unique to accidents. 

“They exist before or regardless of accidents, and on some very rare occasions those conditions can combine in a way that gives rise to an accident,” Marcin explains. 

“Most of the time, they interplay in a way that does not result in an accident. However, there is a risk associated with that. There is a probability, so now we can find them and address them.” 

In other words, while companies can significantly reduce the number of their injuries to close to zero, focusing on accidents and unsafe behaviours alone will not reduce the risk of an incident happening. Rather, more attention needs to be paid to how activities are completed, what challenges are encountered and whether the seeds of a potential future accident are evident.    

As Marcin explains, many businesses that have significantly improved their injury rate may be tempted to rely on lagging indicators such as the total recordable incident rate (TRIR) to make further improvements.  

Safety performance indicators 

Although there is often a regulatory, if not contractual, requirement for businesses to count accidents, he says research shows this measurement is not a reliable indicator of safety performance. 

“TRIR is not a statistically valid measure because it has a huge amount of randomness in it,” he explains.  

What’s more, counting accidents doesn’t give an accurate picture of how safe a business is or how well they are managing risk.  

To start with, if the business relies mainly on lagging indicators, they won’t have enough data to learn and improve from, he says. “They won’t know where their hotspots are and often they experience surprising and repeat accidents.” 

Another consideration that needs to be taken into account is how businesses measure safety, he adds. For example, if a business defines safety as a lack of accidents, it will measure different things, compared to if it defines safety as a presence of controls.  

“I personally prefer the definitions of safety that focus on capacity to identify and respond to potential problems before they cause accidents,” he says. “They create a great opportunity to drive further improvements.”  

This is the premise on which LFNW is based and in the five-minute video introduction on his website, Marcin goes into more detail.  

“When success or failure happens in large organisations people are usually doing what they are typically doing – normal work,” he explains.  

“What varies are the situations, interactions and different patterns in how things are done.” 

Marcin explains that LFNW is about how people adapt to changing conditions and challenges as part of their job, and how they can learn from these adaptations.   

If a business understands what the most critical tasks are in their operations, they can prioritise them for further review, he adds. During this review, they can then identify any constraints and organisational factors and, importantly, determine how well the business is doing in resolving them. 

“Here you’ve got a sample of some metrics that motivate the organisation and provide ongoing feedback on how well you continually reduce risk rather than on counting incidents which are by definition random and extremely rare events,” he says. 

Client solutions 

Marcin offers a suite of solutions to help companies transform safety through proactive learning – from training on LFNW to redesigning key processes such as accident investigation, behavioural observations, or risk assessment to reimagine and enhance them with HOP, human factors and Safety II.  

He also offers a comprehensive competency pathway designed to develop internal experts and champions in the practical application of modern safety concepts and tools to get immediate results and achieve tangible risk reduction.   

He cites a few case studies where clients have adopted the LFNW approach and the benefits this has brought in terms of eliminating risks and improving efficiencies. For example, he highlights how business leaders have become more effective in resolving operational issues that could lead to future incidents, in part through building greater trust with the workforce and getting input from all of the key individuals involved in the critical work in finding solutions.  

“What I see across different companies is that once a sufficient level of trust is established and workers gain the confidence that it is okay to admit to a mistake that was made or even highlight that there is a mismatch between how work is done and what the procedure is, we started to get an insight into conditions which aren’t there all the time,” he says.  

In other words, by bringing these conditions to management’s attention early on, action can be taken to resolve these potential issues before they result in a future incident.  

“This proactive approach to learning that focuses on workers’ challenges and constraints sheds light on things that weren’t visible before,” he concludes.  

“It also makes leaders more effective in improving efficiency, quality and reducing safety risk while at the same time improving culture, trust, communication and encouraging a high level of involvement.”  

If you would like to learn more about how Learning from Normal Work works in practice, have a look at this free course created by Marcin here.  

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4 months ago

Really interesting article and an excellent, clear and concise video explanation. I shall be doing more research into LFNW as I find behavioural psychology fascinating.