Human error risks in the delivery of raw materials

17 June 2012
Human error can result in significant losses. Hence, insurance companies must pay more and more attention to the human factor in loss events. For example, the processing industries may suffer important losses due to human errors in the delivery of their raw materials.

​Processing industries such as chemical and forest industries use a lot of raw materials in their production. The delivery of raw materials is mainly outsourced, and often carried out very independently by the supplier. In many cases, the supplier monitors the customer's container from his own computer and takes full responsibility of supplying the raw material to the customer as needed.

More independence results in more risks

A transport company takes care of the physical delivery of the raw material, and the responsibility of getting the right material to the right place lies on the driver's shoulders. Even though there usually is a person monitoring the delivery on-site, more and more often the driver operates all on his own and independently. Before loading, the driver may enter the system with his computer, load the raw material and then transport it to the customer's factory, where the driver once more enters the system and unloads the raw material into the process silo.

What could possibly go wrong?

The supplier is most likely to have access to folders full of operations instructions so the risks involved are hardly a question of incomplete information. In our example case, a driver arrived at a factory with a load of raw material. He asked the control room personnel where to unload and was given detailed information.  He was also told to take the key for the unloading pipe from the wall, but the young driver rejected, and asked the control room personnel to give him the key in order to avoid any confusion.

That didn't work, though. While the driver was unloading, the silo's alarm suddenly went off because the silo was in fact already full. Some of the factory's staff arrived and noticed that the raw material had been unloaded into the wrong silo. Luckily, the factory's two production lines used the same raw material. Even so, problems did arise because the other silo was almost empty and came close to cause a complete stop of the production line. Fortunately, the supplier was able to provide enough new raw material to avoid the crisis situation.

Instructive operating environment helps to eradicate human error

The correct operating environment is vital for eradicating human error. One should never assume that information flows automatically within the companies and written instructions is all you need. Problems are bound to arise when a person has a large field of operations, which is particularly common in the area of logistics. One driver may have hundreds of different destinations and can't carry a library of instructions for all of them with him.

However, providing an instructive and informative operating environment may reduce the risks of human error significantly. Maps, marked roadways, traffic planning and clear operating instructions are the prerequisites for safe and high-quality operations. We carried out a study of the loading and unloading areas through the eyes of a driver, and noticed that many places have important shortcomings. For example, the markings of the loading and unloading pipes or the silos were missing. Due to a lack of instructions, the drivers appeared to be straying around the factory areas. 

Breaking the routines improves attention

In addition to the shortcomings in operating environments, the lack of attention also causes risks of human error. The attention of the driver decreases as his routines get fixed, but "I have always done it this way" is a scant comfort when the operation goes wrong. In fact, a dull and repeating daily routine may comprise the worst risk for high-quality operations. Stopping the operations in a critical place is a proven method for increasing the attention.

Even though the result was not as planned in our example case, locking and having to use a key are some simple ways to stop the human operations at the right time and direct thoughts and focus towards the essential. In a critical moment, this precaution may be just enough to prevent a major loss.