When a workplace accident occurs, we often focus attention on the individual and the errors he or she made. But that’s not the only way to look at workplace accidents and human error. It is important to be aware that human failure is not random. A number of factors that can contribute to human error which can be a significant causative feature of accidents at work. These include:
Factors contributing to human error
- Inadequate information
People do not make errors merely because they are careless or inattentive. Often they have understandable (albeit incorrect) reasons for acting in the way they did. One common reason is ignorance of the production processes in which they are involved and of the potential consequences of their actions.
- Lack of understanding
This often arises as a result of a failure to communicate accurately and fully the stages of a process that an item has been through. As a result, people make presumptions that certain actions have been taken when this is not the case.
- Inadequate design
Designers of plant, processes or systems of work must always take into account human fallibility and never presume that those who operate or maintain plant or systems have a full and continuous appreciation of their essential features.
- Mistaken actions
This is the classic situation of doing the wrong thing under the impression that it is right. For example, the individual knows what needs to be done, but chooses an inappropriate method to achieve it.
- Mistaken priorities
An organization’s objectives, particularly the relative priorities of different goals, may not be clearly conveyed to, or understood by, individuals. A crucial area of potential conflict is between safety and other objectives, such as output or the saving of cost or time. Misperceptions may then be when top management’s goals are not clear; individuals at any level in the organization may superimpose their own.
Willfully disregarding safety rules is rarely a primary cause of accidents. Sometimes, however, there is only a fine dividing line between mistaken priorities and willfulness.
Elimination of human error
For the potential for human error to be eliminated or substantially reduced, all the above factors need consideration in the design and implementation of safe systems of work, processing operations, work routines and activities.
Training and supervision routines should take account of these factors and the various features of human reliability.