Ten facts about human failure

In my previous role I taught an introductory course on ergonomics and human factors to Inspectors at the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE). I found these “ten facts about human failure” a great way to engage the delegates (adapted from ‘Managing maintenance error: A practical guide’, by Reason and Hobbs, 2003).

Ten facts about human failure (pdf version available)

An early objective on ergonomics and human factors courses is to encourage the group to accept that human failures are as much a part of human life as breathing and sleeping (“to err is human“). Once that is agreed, the ten facts about human failure lead logically into a discussion of Performance Influencing Factors.

Performance Influencing Factors are the characteristics of People, Work and Organisations that influence human performance – such as fatigue, time pressure, priorities, design of controls and displays, and the quality of procedures. These are the ‘situations and conditions’ referred to in Fact 9 and Fact 10 on the attached Briefing Note.

When all of the Performance Influencing Factors relevant to a particular situation are optimal, then the likelihood of human failure will be minimised. 

So, human failures are not random. Evaluating and managing these influencing factors is key to improving human reliability.

An understanding of how our actions and decisions are influenced by a range of factors, often outside our control, also helps to inform a discussion about blame and ‘just culture’.

You may find it useful to discuss these ten facts in a team meeting or safety briefing. It’s also a great list of human factors principles for your accident investigators.

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