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.

Why are human factors important?

Person at an industrial site Despite great advances in technology over recent years, people are still heavily involved throughout any organisation's lifecycle.  Even where a process has been largely automated, the equipment is still designed, maintained and monitored by people.

People have many abilities that cannot be replace by machines. They are particularly good at applying judgement, working flexibly and recalling information gained from many different experiences.  But they have natural weakness that mean error is always a possibility. Human Factors uses the knowledge of people to make sure their strengths are achieved whilst avoiding the weaknesses.

The consequences of human failure

Tank fire Estimates vary, but the general consensus is that up 80% of accident causes involve a human failure.

Accidents involving human failures have included major industrial disasters that have caused significant loss of life.  But it is not only major accidents that are caused by human failure.  No business is immune from the financial costs of events such as:

  • Banking system failures
  • Critical business data being lost
  • Missed deadlines
  • Security systems being left vulnerable to attack
  • Medication errors.

How can human factors help?

People often think that human errors are random and so there is not much that can done to prevent them.  In fact all forms of human failure are predictable.  Whilst they cannot be eliminated, human factors allows the likelihood and/or consequences to be reduced.  This is achieved by understanding how people are able to cope with physical and psychological demands, and how they are effected by the social conditions at work.

Types of human failure

As well as telling us human failures are not random, Human Factors demonstrates that there are different types of human failure.  They occur in different circumstances, and understanding this gives our best opportunity to reduce them.

Flow chart categorising human failures as slips, lapses, mistakes and violations

One of the key messages is that it is not only lack of experience or competence that leads people to commit errors.  In fact slips and lapses are most likely when people are very well practiced at a task so that they are performing on 'auto pilot.'  The other key message is that violations are rarely willful acts, and instead are situations where people are trying to do what they think is best and do not expect any negative consequences to occur.

AB Risk can help

Human Factors is a relatively new discipline but it is rapidly establishing itself as a key element of risk management, particularly in major hazard industries.  Unfortunately it is sometimes seen as a rather theoretical subject both by the experts and industry.

AB Risk risk has works the sharp end of industry, evaluating the true risks of human failure and identifying practical methods of reducing risks.  Human Factors is dealt with using language that engineers and other non-experts understand.  AB Risk deal with people on the shop floor right through to the board room, making sure everyone understands the issues and is involved reducing risks.