Safety Sciences Project Receives Alcoa Grant

Posted on 4/5/2011 2:35:45 PM

IUP has received $99,000 from the Alcoa Foundation for research designed to help reduce human error in the workplace.

Jan Wachter, Safety Sciences professor, will direct research designed to reduce human error in the workplace. The project was funded by a grant from the Alcoa Foundation.

Safety Sciences professor Dr. Jan Wachter will direct this research, which will investigate current worker-engagement tools and develop models for improving human performance in the workplace.

While human error has been associated with the majority of incidents in the workplace, Wachter said, it can be managed through a variety of mechanisms, such as changing or improving processes, procedures, human resource practices, supervisory skills, training, workplace design, and workplace environment. But motivation and worker engagement may be the keys to human-error reduction.

“The key difference in this research from other research on safety in the workplace is that we will investigate how well—or how poorly—workers are currently engaged, or buying into, a shared accountability for identifying at-risk situations and responding to them,” Wachter said. “We want to change this by researching and exposing the most effective tools and methods that actively involve workers in their own safety—tools and methods designed to increase intrinsic awareness of individual performance modes and precursors to error that will enable workers to more effectively manage at-risk situations safely.”

Wachter will collaborate on the project with Patrick Yorio, Safety Sciences Department, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from IUP. Yorio is a senior professional in human resources, a certified safety professional, and a certified workers’ compensation adviser.

“Alcoa constantly looks for ways to increase employee engagement to take it to the next level when it comes to incident prevention and safety,” said Jeff Shockey, Alcoa’s corporate Safety director. “Hazard mapping, pre-job risk assessment, safe work instruction, mentoring and field observations are all part of a process that seeks to tap into employee knowledge and experience.

“Many companies recognize the direct link employee engagement has with retention, operating efficiency and overall performance. But, fewer appreciate why people respond the way they do in a given situation. Developing an understanding of the most frequent error-likely situations can help make human error more predictable. If we can predict error-likely situations, then we improve our ability to manage and prevent them.”

IUP has a history of collaboration and support from the Alcoa Foundation and from Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Inc., one of the world’s leading aluminum producers. In November 2007, IUP received a $100,000 grant to partner with the Alcoa Foundation to present a two-day conference in Pittsburgh on workplace fatalities.

In December 2010, the Safety Sciences program received a $40,000 grant from Alcoa Inc. through its Alcoa Campus Partnership Program. These funds will go toward student scholarships, especially for underrepresented student populations in the profession; student field trips; and student competitions.

About Jan Wachter

Wachter has more than twenty-five years of experience in the government, private, and academic sectors, primarily in the field of environmental health and safety. He has held a variety of supervisory research and administrative positions within the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratory complexes and is a senior environmental health and safety associate for private sector companies. He has both a master’s and doctoral degree in environmental health, a Master of Business Administration, and a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh.

About the Safety Sciences Department

The Department of Safety Sciences was established in 1971 in the College of Health and Human Services to conduct professional programs in safety management and occupational safety and health.

The department has educated more than 2,500 safety and health professionals over the past thirty-eight years, with employment placement rates consistently above 90 percent. These graduates are employed in a variety of industries, such as chemicals, construction, steel, consulting, insurance, and manufacturing.

The Bachelor of Science in Safety Sciences degree program is accredited by the Applied Science Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.