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Human factors

characteristics which influence behavior

Human Factors

Human factors refer to environmental, organizational and job factors, and human and individual characteristics which influence behavior at work in a way which can affect health and safety. A simple way to view human factors is to think about three aspects: the job, the individual and the organization and how they impact people’s health and safety-related behavior.

Human factors is often viewed as a negative when an incident or accident occurs, but this is really Human Error, as the Human Factors can also play an important role in detecting and avoiding an incident or accident. The better we can learn when our Human Factors fails the better prepared we will be to avoid it to lead to Human Error causing an incident or worse an accident. Stress is the main factor for killing our Human Factors, and fatigue will also after a certain amount of time switch it off.

Understanding human factors

Human Factors is a science that focuses on how humans interact with the environment in their workplace. It examines the workplace factors that influence the decisions and actions of workers. The decisions and actions that people take make sense to them at the time given their goals, knowledge and focus of attention. The human factors approach to an investigation asks why a decision or action made sense at that time.

One human factors model that is increasingly well known is the Swiss Cheese Model of organisational accidents (Reason 1990). The Swiss Cheese Model hypothesises that in any system there are many levels of defence. Examples of levels of defence would be checking of drugs before administration, a preoperative checklist or marking a surgical site before an operation. Each of these levels of defence has little ‘holes’ in it which are caused by poor design, senior management decision-making, procedures, lack of training, limited resources etc. These holes are known as ‘latent conditions’.

If latent conditions become aligned over successive levels of defence they create a window of opportunity for a safety incident to occur. Latent conditions also increase the likelihood that professionals will make ‘active errors.’ When a combination of latent conditions and active errors causes all levels of defences to be breached a safety incident occurs. This is depicted by the arrow breaching all levels of defence the image below. (Swiss Cheese)

When such incidents occur it is uncommon for any single action or ‘failure’ to be wholly responsible. It is far more likely that a series of seemingly minor events all happen consecutively and/or concurrently so on that one day, at that one time, all the ‘holes’ line up and a serious event results. On investigation it becomes clear that multiple failings occurred and the outcome appears inevitable, but for those working in the system it can be shocking as they have often worked with these same environmental conditions and small errors or slips occurring regularly without harm ever occurring as a result.

It is very rare for staff to go to work with the intention of causing harm or failing to do the right thing. Therefore we have to ask why there are many incidents where some of the latent conditions are caused by staff not doing the right thing, even when they know what the right thing is. Many processes and policies are complex or seem to create difficulties for busy staff thus creating the temptation to take shortcuts or ‘workarounds’.

At Avipro, we can offer tailor made training and lecture in the Human Factors area. Regardless in what business you are, aviation or non-aviation we can provide a suitable education.

Did we spark your interest or do you have any further questions? We are looking forward to your request, please feel free to contact us anytime!