Why Human Factors?

Why Human Factors?

There are many factors which can influence our behaviour, particularly in the work environment. Some of those things may be controlled, but there are others which we need to accept can affect us and ensure that our systems are designed to cope with them. This is what we mean by ‘Human Factors’.

What is ‘Human Factors’?

Human Factors refers to the interaction between the human and other elements in a system which may affect their behaviour. It is concerned with developing an understanding of what people are asked to do as part of their work, who carries out that work and the environment in which it is done.

The HSE definition states:

‘Human factors refer to environmental, organisational and job factors, and human and individual characteristics, which influence behaviour at work in a way which can affect health and safety.’

In industry, I believe Human Factors is about helping people to do the right thing at the right time and so reduce the risk of human error, making the workplace safer, motivating staff and saving money.

Why invest in ‘Human Factors’?

Businesses, especially in high hazard industries, need a robust Safety Management System. Even the most sophisticated control mechanisms can be defeated if people make mistakes, for example in design, operation or maintenance. Addressing the risk of human error makes your systems safer.

After the Buncefield verdict was announced, the HSE said that all high hazard companies should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do we understand what could go wrong?
  • Do we know what our systems are to prevent this happening?
  • Do we have information to assure us that they are working effectively?

In all these questions, we not only need to think about where our technology and process conditions could cause a major accident but also how our people contribute to it, and how they can mitigate it.

Have a look at the topics page to see the range of issues that a COMAH site is expected to address to manage Human Factors on their facility.