I have used task analysis for many years and have always found it very useful for a wide range of human factors applications.  However, in the last year or so people have started to show more interest in the analyses and have been asking more probing questions about the method, presentation and application.  This has led me to develop a more comprehensive template for recording the findings of task analyses.

Download my Task Analysis Template issued Christmas 2013

In 2001 a document Contract Research Report (CRR) 348/2001 was published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that introduced a method of assessing staffing arrangements for process operations in the chemical and allied industries.  I’ve lost count, but over the last 10 years I have been involved in at least 30 staffing assessment projects for more than 15 different clients.  Also, even where the method is not formally used I often refer to elements of it as guidance for my other human factors and risk consultancy work.  Having spent 10 years using the method I decided it was a good time to stand back and reflect.  In general, although I can point to some flaws in the method, I have found it to be a very good framework for assessing human and organisational factors.  It prompts you to ask challenging questions and to be objective in your analysis.  Also, I have found that the observations and recommendations I have made as a result of using the method have been very well received by my clients.

Download my Christmas 2011 Paper - 10 Years of Staffing Assessments

This paper proposes Task Risk Management as a means of integrating the principles of task analysis into a wider risk management process. The paper describes methods and approaches that I have used and found to be very effective and practical.

I have used the term Task Risk Management to show the benefits of taking a task based approach prioritised around process safety risks. I believe that done properly, the way human factors and process risks are understood and managed can be improved significantly.

Task Risk Management (full paper in PDF format)

Task Risk Management job aid

Recent accidents at Buncefield and Texas City have illustrated how poor shift handover can contribute to major accidents.  This is not a new discovery, but given the ever greater interest in human factors, it is one that is finally receiving attention.

Shift handover is a complex, high risk activity that is performed very frequently.  Normally we would try to ‘engineer out’ high risk frequent tasks, or at least automate them to minimise the likelihood of error.  However, this is not an option for shift handover.

Co-author Brian Pacitti of Infotechnics

Shift handover paper (PDF format)

All organisations involve people in some way.  One issue that this brings is that all people make mistakes, forget things, get distracted, break rules and generally fail.  Human Factors helps us understand how people fail, the potential consequences of failure and how the associated risks can be reduced.

Although people often want to eliminate risk, this is simply not possible.  Instead it is important we understand the risk we undertake, put sensible controls in place and then make a conscious decision about whether we are happy to accept the risks that remain.  This is what we call risk management.

One of the challenges facing companies, particularly those dealing with major hazards, is deciding whether they have enough people to operate safely? This is a difficult question to answer and is rarely purely about the number of people.  Put simply, having a small number of competent people who can work well together is usually better than having more, less competent people.

I think everyone is familiar with procedures, but do we really know what they are?  Dictionary definitions vary, but they typically suggest a procedure is:

  • A manner of proceeding; a way of performing or effecting something.
  • A series of steps taken to accomplish an end.
  • A set of established forms or methods for conducting the affairs of an organised body such as a business, club, or government.

Interestingly none of the definitions refer to written documents. However, in practice it is generally accepted that a procedure is written in a way that describes a task method.

The design of modern control rooms has benefited a great deal from ergonomics and resulted in working environment, furniture and human-machine interfaces that are more consistent with the needs of the people who work in them.  However, I feel that many people involved in the design of control rooms assume that using the latest technology and following the most up to date standards will result in a successful outcome.  They are reassured that what they have developed looks like a control should, but fail to understand that they are not simple objects that can be defined by their physical arrangements.  A control room is actually a component of a complex system where people and equipment come together to control that system.

Control room human factors paper (PDF format)

Companies have invested a great deal of time and effort into training over the years, and it is not the intention here to say that this has all been wasted.  However, unless training is closely linked to a competence system the chance are that the fundamental requirements of the business may not be met because the training provided may not be what is required and/or the cost of that training may be greater than the benefit achieved.

Moving from training to competence (PDF format)


Tug of war


There are a lot of issues that relate to staffing levels and how individuals work as teams.  However, it can be difficult to discuss them as abstract ideas.

Using an analogy based on 'tug of war,' a number of staffing and teamwork scenarios are discussed. Can bigger teams always achieve more than smaller ones?  Does everyone have to be hands on?  How do technical and engineering solutions fit in?

Download a PDF version