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The Role of Brain Chemistry in Mining Incidents

Cristian Sylvestre – Managing Director, HabitSafe

ABSTRACT

Most organisations think of personal safety in terms of hazards, knowledge or conscious decisions. Although these have merit, and may be part of an overall solution, they are not enough to prevent all incidents in mining. So, what is missing?

Neuroscience estimates that 95% of what we do is subconscious. That is, the majority of our actions are mostly done while on autopilot, and not just low risk ones. We are aware of what we are doing, but we are not making “active” conscious decisions from step to step. This is not because of psychology; it is because of the brain chemistry in humans that resulted from evolution.

Although being in autopilot serves us well most of the time, it can also result in unintentional incidents. The solution is not to do away with autopilot (as if we could), but to use behaviour-change science to help people be safer.

Drawing on the latest research, this presentation explores the role played by inattention and distraction while being on autopilot. If people can understand (without blame or fault) how unintentional incidents come about, and how these can be minimised, they engage more fully, comply more and make “safer” conscious decisions. This enables people to contribute with more purpose to a positive safety culture, thereby improving safety performance significantly.

Safety performance data collected from 7 Australian coal mine operations (open cut and underground) show an average of 60% reduction in TRIFR within 2 years.