Safety culture Leadership

Human and organizational performance

An overview

Photo: Halfpoint/iStockphoto

Andrea Baker first encountered the concept of human and organizational performance as a safety professional nearly a decade ago.

She said it gave her a new outlook on the world and a way to express what she “intuitively believed to be right but struggled to articulate.” What resonated with her? “The fact that people make errors and mistakes, and simply hoping that we can make people less human is not a great strategy.”

Baker eventually turned her newfound “passion” into a career. As “The HOP Mentor,” she helps organizations implement the workplace philosophy.

Proponents of HOP say it offers employers, leaders and safety pros a more realistic comprehension of how workers operate, as well as the recognition that errors happen and mistakes are sometimes unavoidable, the expertise to respond to errors, and an understanding of why systems that include defenses against mistakes are needed.

How work really gets done

Safety policies, standard operating procedures and the like are crafted with the expectation – or aspiration – that workers will follow them as closely as possible.

However, even the best-laid plans don’t always work out – a multitude of variables can intersect and interrupt. Now consider external forces such as production deadlines or even organizational values/culture and the role they play.

Those organizational policies and SOPs are often referred to as the “black line,” said Lisa Brooks, vice president of member networks for NSC-ORC HSE – part of the Workplace Practice Area at the National Safety Council.

How work really gets done is called the “blue line.”

“Employees constantly have to make adjustments, fine-tuning,” Brooks said. “Sometimes, there’s even conflict resolution because they can either meet the production demands or the safety demands. So, they’re always making adjustments to get work successfully done.”

Although it’s important to have policies and the “black line” to set parameters, almost inevitably a gap occurs between the two lines. That means employers and safety pros need a better understanding of how workers operate. For example, while she was a safety pro, Baker was in charge of enforcing rules and policies for forklift drivers without personally knowing how to drive a forklift or what the drivers encounter on a daily basis.

We’re really trying to help the leaders realize that the workers know things that they don’t know. … We’re helping the workers understand that the leaders are trying to manage with the information they have.

Bob Edwards
“The HOP Coach”

Associate Editor Alan Ferguson discusses this article in the Oct. 2021 episode of Safety+Health's “On the Safe Side” podcast.


Leaders also need to know what challenges employees face on the job and, perhaps most importantly, where systems are most vulnerable to mistakes that could lead to serious incidents. HOP experts recommend that leaders talk with workers or gather information in other ways to improve their understanding. Instead of top-down communication, a two-way dialogue is needed.

“We’re really trying to help the leaders realize that the workers know things that they don’t know – and that’s very valuable,” said Bob Edwards, “The HOP Coach,” who is based in Tennessee. “We’re helping the workers understand that the leaders are trying to manage with the information they have.”

That communication requires an open approach from leaders and a safe space for workers to provide information without repercussions. “We can’t implement HOP if leadership is not on board,” Edwards said. “I mean, we can’t, because the moment we start speaking more openly and honestly, and a leader freaks out on us and starts writing people up, well, then we’re done. If the leadership’s not on board with it, then it actually can be quite dangerous to have an open and honest conversation if somebody’s then going to get punished for it.”

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