An introduction to Human Factors

Human factors can be described as

the environmental, organisational and job factors, and human and individual characteristics which influence behaviour at work in a way which can affect health and safety”

The above definition can be found in HSG48 – Reducing error and influencing behaviour

An easier way to look human factors is to look at the following three aspects and their impact on your workers health and safety related behaviour;

  • Job;
  • Individual;
  • Organisation.

Organisational factors will have the greatest influence on your employee’s individual and group behaviours.  These factors are often overlooked during the design of work and during incident investigations.  As an organisation you should try to establish a positive health and safety culture, which promotes employee involvement and commitment at all levels.

Job factors consider the tasks, and that they are designed in accordance with ergonomic principles, to consider both strengths and limitations in performance of your workers.

Individual factors look at what your employees bring to their job.  Attributes such as attitudes, habits, skills and personalities are examples to name a few.

When workplace incidents occur we sometimes hear the term human error.  You should not assume that this term means that people are to blame.  Individual errors can of course play a part in incident causes, but it is important to note that there are often other factors that contribute, such as the job and organisational factors.

Human failures can be categorised into errors and violations:

  • human error can be described as an action or decision which was not intended, which involved a deviation from an accepted standard, and which led to an undesirable outcome.
  • Human violation can be described as a deliberate deviation from a rule or procedure

Errors can be further split into slips, lapses and mistakes.  Slips and lapses tend to occur during very familiar tasks which your workers carry out without too much need for conscious attention.  Slips will often result in a step of a process being omitted.  Lapses tend to cause workers to forget to carry out an action.  Mistakes on the other hand can be said to be more complicated and it is where a worker does the wrong thing believing it was correct.

Violations can also be split into three categories, these are routine, situational and exceptional. 

  • Routine violations are where breaking the rule has become a normal way of working within your workplace. 
  • Situational violations are where the rule is broken due to workplace pressures such as workload, time, lack of staff or incorrect equipment, for example. 
  • Exceptional violations do not occur that frequently, and they tend to only occur when something has gone wrong.  A worker may be required to fix a problem in the workplace and in order to do so they may feel that they to break a rule and take a risk, as they may incorrectly believe the benefit of doing this outweighs the risk.

Manging human factors and any human failures will assist your organisation in preventing major incidents, accidents, ill-health, which in turn can help reduce the costs that can be associated with these and improve health and safety culture.