Pressing pause - evolving a common language around error

18 Oct 21

GIRI is embedding concepts such as ‘build it in your brain’ and ‘pressing pause to avoid error’ as a part of common language on construction sites to aid understanding and avoidance of error.

“We always have time to put it right; we never have time to get it right,” was one of the key phrases to emerge from GIRI’s initial research into the cost of error in UK construction. This is emblematic of both a long-standing attitude towards error (that it is unavoidable and acceptable) and the time-pressured working conditions that promulgate it.

However, the same research also found that these errors are costing the industry up to £25 billion a year, money that could fund 500 secondary schools or 100,000 new houses. This realisation led to the formation of GIRI, to bring together like-minded businesses across the construction industry to eliminate avoidable error and improve the productivity, quality, safety, and sustainability of the sector.

A theme in GIRI’s work is to instill a common understanding of why errors occur. This requires a common language – simple messages that are easy to understand and act on.

A good example is the instruction to ‘build it in your brain’. GIRI research confirmed that construction programmes can put individuals under pressure; they have deadlines to meet and when people are in a rush, errors are much more likely to occur. 

“If you are about to undertake any task and you can’t close your eyes and visualise what it should look like, it is unlikely you will be able to do it without error,” explains Nick Francis, Director of GIRI Training & Consultancy, who teaches the concept on GIRI’s supervisory and management skills course. “If you can’t visualise where the next brick goes, or the next piece of steel – if you don’t know what it will look like when it is finished – the chances are you’re going to have some errors.”

But what if you can’t build it in your brain? Well, another finding of GIRI’s research was that in such a situation, most employers would prefer their staff to stop before an error occurs. This is where the subtleties of language really come into play. The instruction to ‘stop’ can be problematic for several reasons. Not only can it have contractual implications, but it is already part of a common language around safety. If we start using ‘stop’ for error, it risks diluting the safety message and could result in a ‘stop’ for safety being ignored.

With this in mind, GIRI’s message is ‘press pause to avoid error’. Build it in your brain, and if you can’t, press pause. Pause, think, replan, start again. This way, errors are avoided, and money and time is not wasted in putting them right.

“Pressing pause is a positive thing,” says Nick. “You only press pause to press start again. It is less confrontational, it is not confused with safety, and it is becoming part of a common understanding about error and a common language that GIRI is embedding within the industry.”

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