Economic Recovery Begets The Learning Curve Dark Side
The economic recovery may happen soon – or then again possibly not for a long time. One of the most ignored equations or proved theories is the Learning Curve. In my actuarial degree, this was one of the glossed over management equations that should have been held up to the light, in my humble opinion.
I posted on the learning curve at length in the past. You may want to use the search box in the right margin to search for my posts on the learning curve. I thought it would be a well-placed reminder.
One of the banes of Risk Mangers and Safety Officers is when employees use a machine or performs a process for the first time. The likelihood of injury spikes off the charts for that first time. These injures (some fatal) often occur in the same manner as riding a bicycle. I still have skinned knee scars from the first time I rode a motorcycle.
The safety and risk related learning curve is not very easy to find. Every resource on it refers to how fast an assembly line will speed up over time with a set of new workers. The Boston Consulting Group came up with the learning curve in an academic form. Ford Motor Company had applied the learning curve to Model T production.
I used to call it the Hurricane Hugo phenomenon. Many workers (some very inexperienced) came into the Charleston and Low Country part of South Carolina in 1989. Construction companies hired employees by the busload. The need for very rapid reconstruction of many island homes was at critical mass.
The first reports of injury from construction related businesses in Charleston spiked for approximately three months. Most of the first reports indicated the injuries occurred with new construction employees at an alarming rate. Chainsaw and lumber saw injuries – most very severe- were very common. Check out degloving hand injuries to see one of the more common saw injuries.
I usually do not use Wikipedia as a source. The learning curve that resembles the reduction of injuries per person-hours is best shown here. These curves are actually unit cost per level of production, but with a little imagination, one can see the same effect.
What can a safety or risk manager do to combat an almost uncontrolled phenomenon? One method may be to remember that even a very experienced employee may still have the learning curve effect if they have been out of work for quite a long time.
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