Why Non-technical Skills Matter – A Lot – When It Comes to Preventing Errors and Accidents

In safety-critical fields such as aviation, nuclear energy, and healthcare, employees’ technical skills are naturally important. We want our surgeons to know how to conduct surgery properly. But we often fail in these settings to recognize the equal importance of non-technical skills (NTS), such as situational awareness, communication, coordination, problem solving and teamwork.

Last fall, I presented at a master class of the Canadian Network for Agencies of Regulation (CNAR). There, we had the pleasure of hearing Rhona Flin – a psychologist from the University of Aberdeen who works with safety-critical industries – speak about NTS. I have included here a Ted talk by Ms. Flin about this subject.

Much of the work on NTS originated with aviation investigations of the 1970s and 80s, such as the runway collision of two 747s on the island of Tenerife in 1977, which to this day remains the most deadly collision in aviation history. The accident investigators in that case did not find technical problems with either of the jets involved, nor did they find any deficiencies in the technical skills of their aircrews. What they did find was a tragic series of coincidences compounded by non-technical problems, including miscommunications between the jets and air traffic control, hesitation of the KLM cockpit to confirm their takeoff status, and impatience on the part of the KLM captain, leading him to take off in heavy fog without proper clearance. The fully-fuelled KLM jet struck a taxiing Pan Am 747 on the runway, setting off explosions and killing 583 people.

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Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Back, and the Keys to Reform: Book Review

Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Back, and the Keys to Reform

Malcolm K. Sparrow

Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2016

It is hardly news that America’s police forces are struggling with their mission. The recent spate of high-profile police killings and resulting riots have raised serious concerns about institutional racism – leading to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement – a situation exacerbated by the ongoing war on drugs and the increasing militarization of U.S. police forces since 9/11. [1]

When it comes to the problems of U.S. police departments, Malcolm Sparrow’s unique background lends particular credibility to his views. A mathematician, former police officer, and professor in public management at the Harvard Kennedy School, he has the practical, analytical, and strategic insights needed to effectively guide police in their community and problem-solving work – if only he could find a receptive audience.

Handcuffed – in a nutshell – is a lucid, compelling plea by the author for U.S. police to re-dedicate themselves to their core work of harm reduction, through community and problem-oriented policing.

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