Understanding Fermilab’s Human Performance Improvement program

Human Performance Improvement is a powerful tool that individuals and organizations can use to make fundamental improvements in their processes. Errors happen in all types of situations and organizations, and when they do it’s easy to chalk them up to inattention or carelessness. But the roots of human error frequently go deeper, and HPI is a means for getting to the base causes of these errors and addressing them before they can happen again.

What sets HPI apart from other improvement approaches is its focus on the big picture. “With HPI, we take a step back and view individual actions and outcomes in a broader context,” said Dave Baird, HPI subcommittee deputy. “Everything each of us does is dependent in some way on the work of others and the operation of related processes. When something unexpected happens, we try to get to the cause of the problem and seek a holistic solution instead of addressing the issue as an isolated occurrence.”

Since its implementation at Fermilab over 10 years ago, the HPI program has become an integral part of the lab’s efforts to not only review incidents and unexpected outcomes for corrective and preventive actions, but also identify why these incidents happened as well any organizational weaknesses that may have contributed. “The goal of HPI is not to affix blame for a certain outcome — rather, it’s to identify any contributing factors that can be addressed and controlled in the future,” Baird said.

Much of the HPI work at Fermilab happens through the HPI subcommittee, which is made up of representatives from each division and section. “The HPIS exists to strengthen areas where the lab has organizational weaknesses, reduce top error precursors, and actively address recommendations from HPI reviews and implement lessons learned,” said Baird. “Its goals are to integrate HPI principles into the lab’s processes and work activities, create a data-driven culture and develop a mindset that’s more preventive than reactive.”

Through the efforts of the subcommittee, the focus of Fermilab’s HPI efforts have been on the analysis of this data and the directed initiatives to address the gaps in our work culture. By preventing and reducing critical errors, Fermilab should see an improvement in compliance, reliability and quality of the work performed by lab employees.

Training is another major part of Fermilab’s HPI effort. The team has developed highly interactive training modules that provide real-life examples of incidents that have occurred at both Fermilab and Argonne. The HPI Review Database is another valuable tool. The database provides a review framework to address corrective and preventive responses and to develop directed labwide programmatic initiatives to the identified gaps in our work culture.

Over the course of the coming year, the HPI subcommittee will present a series of articles about Fermilab’s HPI program. In April, we will hear the story of one lab employee’s personal experience and how Fermilab’s HPI program has had a positive impact on his work.

Learn more about Fermilab’s HPI program by visiting its website.