This section includes an approach to getting started in human factors; how to undertake a gap analysis of the key topics in your organisation, some tips on engaging external consultants, and some suggested roles in human factors for different staff groups.
Where to start
This is an approach that I have seen work well in several organisations:
- Assign a human factors champion, this will be your focal point. Perhaps a supervisor or health and safety professional.
- Engage senior leadership – help them to understand human factors and the benefits of the approach. Include why it’s not sufficient to focus on the ‘human errors’ of front-line staff, and introduce the many Performance Influencing Factors that influence our behaviours.
- Review the key human factors Topics on this website. The Incidents pages will help you to understand how several topics can interact to cause a major event.
- Perform a gap analysis against the key human factors topics, for example, by using the questions provided in each of the topic pages (or create your own questions using the information provided on the topic pages).
- Review your incident history, as this will help to inform your gap analysis (e.g. which topics are reported most often in near-miss reports, or in your investigations?)
- Remember to involve the workforce – they are the experts in your organisation’s activities. Asking for their help provides you with a great opportunity to build awareness in human factors.
- Present your gap analysis in the form of traffic lights for each of the key topics (Green, Amber, Red) – see example below.
- Highlight 1 or 2 topics to address this year, next year and so on . . . and create some SMART actions. I’d suggest focusing on the more tangible topics first (for example, safety culture may not be the most suitable subject to start with . . . ). You may wish to phase activities for a topic over several months (e.g. raising awareness; diagnosing key issues; implementing changes).
- Present findings to senior leadership and get a commitment for resources to address the priority gaps.
- Take action !
- Start small and celebrate the successes. Try to build support from informal leaders or influential employees, who will be able to help you ‘sell’ the benefits.
- Review, learn, improve and share.
The table below shows gap analysis findings for four companies, using the traffic lights summary (fictitious data). This is a useful way to present a summary to Leaders and Executives.
Seeking expert help
Human factors consultants or contractors can assist you in the above process, but someone in your organisation needs to understand the basics so that they can oversee the consultant’s scope and understand their outputs. It is strongly recommended to speak to your country’s human factors or ergonomics professional body (such as www.ergonomics.org.uk; www.hfes.org, or www.ergonomics.org.au), as they may maintain a list of Chartered or accredited professionals.
If you engage a consultant, be clear what your exit strategy is; and ensure they help you to build internal capability so that you are not completely reliant on them. You may have heard the phrase ‘being sold a Rolls Royce when you needed a Mini’, but instead I would suggest that a consultant’s role would include teaching you how to drive, rather than selling you a car.
Who does what?
- Accept that humans are fallible—don’t strive for zero error, only the outcomes can be reduced to zero.
- Recognise the need to optimise the conditions that influence error (the Performance Influencing Factors).
- Communicate the key human factors issues and encourage your managers to do so.
- Commit to providing resource and specialist support if required.
- Increase your understanding of the key topics and how they impact your business.
- Develop and support in-house expertise on human factors, recognising that it is a specific scientific discipline.
- Accept that the majority of non-compliances are not malicious but well-meaning behaviours aimed to get the job done.
- Foster a no-blame environment where errors and non-compliances can be openly discussed and lessons learnt.
- Following an incident, instead of asking ‘who was responsible for this’, ask ‘how did we set this person up to fail’.
Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSEQ) Professionals
- Perform a gap analysis of the key topics, highlighting priority areas.
- Provide awareness training to all staff, including those that are office-based as well as site personnel.
- Identify, engage and support human factors champions or focal points within business areas.
- Address human factors proactively, as well as within incident investigations.
- Review your investigation reports for human factors causes and highlight key trends.
- Develop tools and processes on the key topics, to integrate human factors within your existing systems.
- Consider all stages of the life cycle, from design to decommissioning.
- Engage human factors specialists if necessary.
Supervisors or Team Leaders
- Become a human factors champion for your area of the business.
- Consider the key topics when planning work and projects.
- Engage and involve the workforce to identify solutions to problems and improve work practices.
- Support the implementation and roll-out of human factors initiatives.
- Build trust with your workforce and drive a culture where it is recognised that errors occur, and are openly discussed without retribution.
- Working with health and safety or human factors professionals, identify tasks or activities where human performance is critical and assess what can go wrong—and why.
- Consider how actions and decisions could influence major accidents, don’t just focus on personal safety outcomes.
- Report or discuss errors, even those that do not lead to a negative outcome, so that they can be openly discussed, and the conditions that influence them can be managed.
- Consider the key human factors issues before you start work—what factors could affect your performance or that of others?
- Report conditions that could lead to potential errors, such as fatigue, poor design, inadequate procedures, poor interfaces, unclear roles or conflicting priorities.