In the world of work, problems that occur due to human factors are common. After all, we are not robots, and we can make judgment errors when making a decision. Human limitations mean that such errors are more common than you might think. However, while they are natural, it’s a problem when the number becomes so high that accidents keep happening in the workplace.
In fact, according to SOL-X, 66% of all incidents and casualties are caused by human factors. That’s why understanding human factors is so important for employers. Improving overall system performance is about managing such errors, especially in hazardous industries where a risk of human error can lead to severe consequences.
The good news is that human factors can be managed with the right technology, which is key for hazardous industries. When you have suitable technology in place, you can protect your workers’ health and safety. Let’s assess examples of human factors in safety and solutions that work.
What are Human Factors?
Simply put, human factors are conditions that affect an employee’s interaction with their workplace, equipment, work procedures, or even their team. These conditions might arise from physical, psychological, or social reasons, but ultimately, they affect employees’ human abilities to perform their work safely.
What are Examples of Human Factors?
From the above definition, it’s clear that people, management, and workplaces contribute to human factors. Let’s take a look at specific examples of these factors:
- People: Your employee’s knowledge, abilities and limitations, and expectations will affect how they interact with others around them. Their individual differences such as their age and culture, also matter. If employees are stressed or distracted, these are predictors that safety performance might be affected.
- Management: The overarching organizational factors, such as management systems, also play an essential role. Managerial policies and decisions about the job design as well as how the information is communicated to the employee, will also impact human factors. This means that safety professionals must consider things such as work schedule, workload, task design, and requirements, besides written and spoken communications to convey instructions and data to employees.
- Work environments: Finally, work environments also affect safety in the workplace. The facilities, workstation configuration and accessibility, as well as workplace controls, warning systems, and other physical aspects that affect human well-being such as noise, temperature, and heat exposure all matter. Human factors specialists must consider workplace and employment design together while assessing the work environment.
How Do Human Factors Affect Workplace Safety?
The maritime and oil & gas industries are high-risk environments. The workers who operate in this field are exposed to various hazards, from extreme temperatures to the possibility of explosions. As such, companies in this field must have rigorous safety procedures in place to account for human factors.
Human factors affect workplace safety because it leads to severe external consequences.
Human factors are one of the most significant factors affecting workplace safety in this industry. The critical word to recognize in “human factors” is “human”. Humans make mistakes. Unfortunately, the price of human error is quite high. In October 2020, for example, an admin error by the Public Health of England caused nearly 16,000 COVID-19 cases to go unreported. In healthcare safety, it is estimated that the global cost of medication error is US$42 billion annually. The fact is that everyone is human, and those human mistakes come with major costs in safety.
In the maritime industry, human factors cause severe casualties, leading to collisions, stranded ships, and even fire. Research shows that 80 per cent of maritime casualties are caused by human factors which lead to collisions, and collisions account for 85 per cent of maritime casualties. The collision among ships may cause damage to not only ships but also cargo.
According to researchers (Mengwei, 2020), some human factors include fatigue which cause many driving accidents, the breakdown of machines, lack of professional knowledge, and negligence of potential risks. All these lead to an unavoidable collision.
While it is difficult to establish a correlation as to which human factors lead to what type of consequences, suffice to say that such collisions have brought about disastrous consequences on the environment as well as negative effects on quality of life. In 1990, the Changjiang 0802 fleet collided with the Chongqing fleet, capsizing other ships and leaking concentrated sulfuric acid into the Yangtze River.
In 2018, the oil tanker Sanchi caused significant impacts on the environment. The tanker carried about 1 million barrels of condensate, and a collision spread the fuel into the East China Sea. This is a catastrophe for the marine environment.
Human factors impact safety since employees use experience rather than logic to judge the job
Another reason why human factors can be challenging to minimize is that risky behaviors are sometimes driven by experience.
Experience can prevent significant accidents because this process occurs intuitively and automatically and does not involve analytical, data-driven risk assessments. Each time the benefit is realized without a negative consequence, the behavior becomes automatic. But injuries can also occur when experience becomes a habit, influencing behavior. The act of doing in the workplace becomes careless when people think that the job is safe.
Indeed, a study found that injuries were 88 per cent more likely to occur in a perceived safe job than those considered the most dangerous. Secondly, when people make repeated choices that reward their risky behaviors, they tend to underestimate the actual risks. Finally, the study concludes that we tend to rely on intuitive responses to make decisions and act upon them between logic and intuition. This partially explains why just telling someone that a job is risky may have little influence on someone’s behavior.
Human factors impact safety due to complex environments with little information
Human factors also result from employees’ lack of awareness of what is happening in complex and dynamic operating environments. Safety systems and risk models often do not describe safety risks or environmental change.
An explosion at a Torrance, California, refinery in 2015 illustrates this problem. As the workers focused on completing the refinery shutdown, they became unaware of the changing environment around them. As a result, they neglected the importance of the critical safety barriers around them.
Many companies might also not understand all the hazards they have and the conditions of their safeguards to prevent an incident—especially company operations associated with infrequent modes of operations, like startups and shutdowns. When accidents happen, the impact goes beyond assessing safety performance. ARC Advisory Group estimates that the unplanned downtime on process industry revenue and profitability costs companies $1 trillion yearly.
How to Reduce Risks from Human Factors?
Adopting a system and technology approach is the way to reduce risks from human factors. This means understanding the strengths and limitations of humans. It also means studying the interaction of people with equipment, technology, systems, workplace, environment, etc. Lastly, safety professionals must evaluate and design better technology, systems, workplace, and environment.
Here are some solutions that can help you in a technology approach:
- Utilizing a Control Of Work System
A Control Of Work is a Safety Management System that ensures that hazardous job tasks, such as confined space entry or “hot work” like welding and brazing, do not occur unless and until they have been reviewed and authorized.
SOL-X’s Control Of Work can manage human factors by streamlining step-by-step smart safety workflows to improve compliance assurance, planning, and execution.
For example, when a worker is preparing a permit at crucial stages, he must enter location and time stamp verification like sign-offs in the system. The roles and approval controls are customized to various authority levels for specific workflows, using unique worker identification. It also allows for surveying real-time operations from the live dashboard. This provides a complete overview of cumulative risk and high-risk work activities.
- Crew Protection System
A crew protection system helps companies to manage risk and enhance current safety systems by addressing low situational awareness, incomplete workers’ health and wellbeing data, and environmental exposure risk.
SOL-X’s Crew Protect can lower risks by providing crucial information on the working conditions, hazard exposure periods, ill health, and other work-related hazards faced by workers when detected by our SmartWatch. It also sends out Crew Assist alerts from their wearables when workers encounter difficulties performing their tasks or feel unwell, therefore alerting Responsible Authority.
Furthermore, it reinforces positive behavior by sending out GeoFence alerts on their wearables so workers will avoid hazardous zones.
Solutions to Manage Human Factors
Human factors can add significant time pressures to your workflow when not managed well. To find out more about how human factors can impact your workplace safety, read our whitepaper to find out more.