Focus on stress at Safety Conference

Skills used by NASA astronauts to survive a crisis in space are being adopted by industry to save lives on the ground, a behavioural expert says.

Werner Naef will reveal how managers and staff can change their behaviours under stress at The Safety Conference in Sydney on October 25.

Hosted by the Safety Institute of Australia’s NSW division and sponsored by WorkCover NSW, the conference is expected to draw about 1000 delegates to hear from 60 local and overseas experts.

The Process Communication Model (PCM) that Dr Terry McGuire introduced at NASA to recruit and train astronauts is now being applied around the world by organisations operating in high risk areas — such as health, emergency management and government agencies.

The model is designed to pre-empt life-threatening dysfunctional behaviour that can erupt in the midst of a crisis.

For example, Naef says, a pilot’s stress when he got into trouble ultimately resulted in the plane crashing into a hillside when approaching the runway, killing 24 people.

“During the approach, the captain under stress lost the overview, where the plane was relative to the runway, and descended below minimum safe altitude. The co-pilot tried to intervene but only tentatively — to no effect.”

Naef says similar issues conspired in the overdosing death of a two-month-old baby in hospital, and in serious injuries sustained by an experienced welder when a disc disintegrated in an angle grinder.

Compliance with safe procedures is essential under any circumstances and, says Mr Naef, the key is an understanding of human behaviour.

“As we get trapped in situations, and stress levels increase, miscommunication and highly predictable stress patterns kick in,” he says.

“We are hijacked from operating in the ‘green’ range and enter the ‘yellow’ or even ‘red’ range — outside our comfort zone. We then find ourselves, together with our staff, in a destructive loop, doing things that in hindsight were completely out of place.”

Naef says behavioural markers indicate when something is going wrong, deep down.

“Using PCM, managers and staff can decode behaviour by analysing communication patterns, facial expressions and body language that are linked to people’s psychological structure and associated processes,” he says.

“Once you understand those linkages, you can anticipate — in a highly predictable way — behavioural patterns that often unknowingly sabotage one’s professional and private life.”

“The key to successful management of stressed or dysfunctional team members lies in an early identification of such behaviour, miscommunication and mismanagement.”

“Nobody wants to kill — but people die because they do not comply. The missing link in human factors is to connect communication and stress management with the individual’s personality and its predictable responses.’’

Werner Naef will explain how Process Communication Model works during his address at The Safety Conference Sydney, which will run from October 24 to 26 at the Southee Complex, Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park.

For details, contact Australian Exhibitions & Conferences on 03 9654 7773, or visit

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