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How to ... Prevent mistakes

Your career; Avoiding mistakes

Human error is unavoidable in the construction industry - as in any other. And when such errors lead to serious disasters, post mortems, revised systems and even new legislation often follow, demonstrating the industry's apparent willingness to learn from its mistakes.

But what about mistakes on a smaller scale? Experts like David Bergman, director of research and lobbying group the Centre for Corporate Accountability, stress that clear and effective management and lines of accountability are essential if mistakes are to be minimised. He thinks the sector has a long way to go before learning the essential lesson that until individual senior staff have a legal duty to take responsibility for safety, unnecessary accidents will happen and few organisations will be called to account.

'Small mistakes should not lead to catastrophic results - there should be systems in place to stop this,' he says. 'These include proper training and making safety a boardroom issue.'

And for civil engineers lower down the food chain the same message applies. Clarity, planning and communicating with the right people are the best ways both to reduce the risk of mistakes, and to learn from them when they do occur. Former HSE inspector Reverend Malcolm James estimates 95 per cent of accidents on suspended access platforms are the result of human error.

What leads to such mistakes is frequently a breakdown in communication. 'A lot of people are good at processes, but not so good at communicating with colleagues,' says Clare Ballard, managing psychologist with Coutts Consulting Group, which advises staff from all industry sectors including construction.

Dr Ellen Balke, director of LD Consulting, suggests thinking as creatively as possible at the project planning stage to cut the risk of overlooking anything relevant. 'Using mind maps - non-linear ways of recording your thoughts and ideas - will make it less likely that you will miss something out,' she says.

If you do make a mistake, Balke cautions against too much self-blame. 'Don't spend too much time thinking about it,' she says. 'Think: what could I have done to avoid that? If there are things you could have done, then how can you apply them in future? If you there was nothing you could have done - drop it.'

Centre for Corporate Accountability: (020) 720 99143; LD Consulting: (020) 783 18400; Coutts Consulting Group: (020) 7283 1229.

Key points

Spend time planning andbrainstorming future projects.

Don't overlook key players -including your line manager.

When the worst happens, tryand isolate the cause.

Don't blame yourself too much,or over-react.

Clarify lines of responsibility,and your place within that.

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