1st February 2017

A misplaced decimal point can kill you!

This month we read that Northumbria University was fined £400,000 for an error with a decimal point, which led to two of their sports science students taking a dose of 30g of caffeine instead of the intended dose of 0.3g.  The fine pales into insignificance when you consider that the two students could have died because of the mistake.

The smallest of mistakes can lead to the biggest of catastrophes. Our healthcare and pharmaceutical clients are particularly aware of the life-threatening consequences of mistakes in their data. We’re aware, for example, of how procedures have been improved to ensure that nurses administering drugs on hospital wards use the correct dosages. We’re also aware of how one GP prescribed the wrong drug to a patient because he had the wrong patient details on his computer screen – fortunately disaster was averted in this case by the pharmacist who knew the patient.

Mistakes have both human and financial consequences. In the caffeine overdose case, the university concerned had a heavy fine to pay and the students themselves unwittingly risked their lives, although fortunately both made a full recovery. 

Our financial services clients are painfully aware of the significance of a misplaced decimal, too. When you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds, a decimal point in the wrong place has enormous consequences! And in payroll, where we see so many errors, a part-time hourly pay rate of say, £19.50 can appear as £195.00, leading to all sorts of problems later! We frequently find that mistakes in payroll are left unnoticed for many, many months before being picked up in an audit. And then there are all the repercussions involving the overpaid employee, National Insurance payments, problems with recovering the overpayment and a vast array of other headaches. All over a misplaced decimal point!

Being alert to the possibility of error and the consequences of mistakes plays a major part in preventing mistakes in the workplace. Training people to use proven, practical accuracy techniques, leads to greater attention to detail and more accurate processing of information. In our flagship programme ‘Developing an Eye for Accuracy’ for example, we show how to work with punctuated data, including decimals. Wherever you have currency symbols, decimal points, percentage signs, dashes or lines, you introduce greater potential for error.

Dealing with decimals

Look at the two columns of data below and ask yourself, are they the same or different?

0.555                                     05.55

64.5897                                 64.5897

345,918.442                        345,918.422

69.996                                   699.96

£450,550.50                        £450,55.05

128.883                                 128.883

00.0338                                 000.338

Did you spot the differences? But now imagine you’re working in a busy environment with lots of distractions and you’re under a deadline. Or maybe you’re working with data that you handle every day as part of your work – it’s easy to get number daze, or to see what you expect to see rather than what’s actually there. In fact, it’s easy to make a mistake. And at the very least, mistakes waste time and generate re-work; at their most dangerous, they risk lives.

Don’t let errors keep you awake at night

At Scott Bradbury, we specialise in developing people’s accuracy skills. Each month we publish a fun, seasonally themed accuracy test and you can subscribe to receive these free of charge at www.accuracyprogramme.co.uk

If you’d like to find out more about developing your people’s accuracy skills, please come along to our next taster event (see below), or ask for your own personalised demonstration at your premises.

Reducing the Cost of Error – 22 February 2017

Please come to our next half-day taster workshop, in London on 22 February 2017. There’s no charge – we simply ask that you are seriously interested in improving your people’s accuracy skills and have budget and purchasing authority. For more information about ‘Reducing the Cost of Error’ workshop please visit our events page:  https://www.accuracyprogramme.co.uk/events/

February 2017

A misplaced decimal point can kill you!

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Accuracy Asides is the name of our accuracy blog

You get to hear about our latest accuracy course results, the real-life 'bloomers' which come to our attention and all the latest news and juicy gossip about errors! We share accuracy tips and advice too.

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