PUCRS professor presents study on operational safety in Sweden

Lucas Bertelli Fogaça, coordinator of Aeronautical Sciences program and HFACTORS researcher, went to Lund University

20/07/2022 - 08h40

Photo: Personal archive

Despite the substantial number of rules and procedures enforced by regulatory agencies, overly complex organizations are not free from catastrophes. The coordinator of the Aeronautical Sciences program of PUCRS, Lucas Bertelli Fogaça, a researcher at HFACTORS, has found controversies in the relationship between workers and the workplace artifacts. His findings are materialized in his PhD dissertation, defended in 2021. The study was presented in June at Lund University, in Sweden.

“Just as procedures are used to structure the work, variability in the field implies constant adaptations to develop the work”, he explains. This is one of the dualities observed in the oil, gas and air traffic industries, which are commonly used in research. The work developed by Fogaça is part of the project Integration of Human Factors and Resilience to Strengthen a Culture of Safety in the Oil and Gas Industry, conducted by HFACTORS, accountable to the School of Technology, in partnership with the Business School of PUCRS.

As examples, Fogaça mentions the accidents that occurred shortly after the celebration of elevated levels of compliance on risk prevention by external audits, such as the Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion of a drilling rig occurred the day after the conclusion of a report with excellent safety results, causing a huge environmental disaster, with 11 deaths being reported. “The events of the Mariana dam and the Air France 447 also took place in similar scenarios, even with very high levels of compliance. This shows, in retrospect, that security and compliance do not necessarily go hand in hand.”

He used a sociological approach, while conducting field work, in reports, manuals and procedures, and had the chance to see how operational and management dynamics occur. “The study aimed to capture negotiations and reconciliation of different goals every day, thus showing how procedures, regulation and training programs, for example, are not neutral, but determine how we should act”, he emphasizes.

Hyperbureaucratization of organizations

Lucas Fogaça and Éder Henriqson / Photo: Personal archive

Another point that was discussed was the legal protection for large companies, which implies the creation of numerous documents, hundreds of pages of prescriptions and procedures for employees. In this regard, organizations seek to protect themselves from legal implications.

Companies are getting into a moment of hyper-bureaucratization and self-justification in order not to be held criminally responsible. “This often ends up interfering with the improvement of the operational safety management system, and is overshadowed by the search for culprits”, he reflects. The accumulation of new rules and norms that need to be met directly impacts the volume of work. This grows out of proportion and affects the core activity, reaching different elements of organizational structures.

“In an example that we discussed in Sweden, we observed an increase of almost five times in the volume of material required to train flight instructors over the last 10 years. Most of it – more than two thirds of that material – is used today for legal protection and not for the safety of the air operation itself”, he says.

Learning Laboratory at Lund

Fogaça defended his dissertation at the Human Factors and System Security Learning Laboratory, at Lund University. This was the first face-to-face meeting of the group since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Dean of the Business School and Scientific Coordinator of HFACTORS, Dr. Éder Henriqson, is one of the professors of the Human Factors program at the Swedish institution. He also joined a number of activities with Fogaça, with the discussions on topics such as ethics, organizational learning, as well as fair and safety culture.

Researchers from various parts of the world, from different segments, discussed the limitations and solutions for operational security. “The other participants discussed similar situations in different industries such as nuclear and healthcare, and searched for ways to improve these systems and find a balance between production, protection and compliance in complex and dynamic systems”, Fogaça adds.

The way he sees it, it is very difficult to work with pre-established models, without considering the specific characteristics of each environment and the participation of members of the workplace under study. “Ready-made models and frameworks are not suitable for the dynamics of these fields. For that reason, our approach involves co-creation. We are dedicated to increasing perceptions in the field to allow solutions from the field”, he says. In this context, according to Fogaça, the work of researchers will always rely on the experience of workers in their own workplaces.

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