Human factors in the workplace include organizational, environmental and personal characteristics of employees. There are three interrelated aspects that are required for the workplace to run smoothly, they are the job, the individual and the organization. The design of the job and the equipment used to complete it will have a direct effect on the health and safety of workers. But good design, procedures and training cannot compensate for competence. Understanding why errors occur can help develop more effective controls. The two types of human failure are errors and violations. Errors can be slips, for example, pressing the wrong button. Lapses are where one forgets to do something in a procedure or as part of the job role. Training cannot remove these, but good job design and controls in place can mitigate against them happening. ‘Mistakes’ can also occur, which are erros in judgement or in decision making. This is where someone does the wrong thing, thinking it to be right. This can happen if something is new to them, if they have not been trained properly or because it is an unexpected situation. In this case, one may fall back on remembered rules from similar situations, but these rules within the current situation may be incorrect.
Violations are intentional but usually well meaning mistakes. They are rarely malicious and usually are a way of cutting corners to do the job quickly. Sometimes mistakes resulting from poor training are ofden mistaken for violations. Peer pressure and unworkable rules also attribute to violations. Violations can be managed by proper training, setting out procedures and educating staff that cutting corners and being sloppy at work can have detrimental consequences. Monitoring and doing spot checks may develop a culture of compliance and etiquette.
Understanding the types and causes of human failure in the workplace can prevent further accidents and mishaps. Understanding the type of human error, for example, whether memory lapse or cultural, can help one build better control measures and set out a devised risk management plan to mitigate against them. But nothing can totally take away human error, it will always occur, but being aware of it can help one learn from mistakes.
The areas which influence people’s performance and can impact on health and safety are fatigue, shiftwork, communication, risk taking behaviours and the health and safety culture of the organization. Some people, especially those that do shift work, can experience extreme fatigue. This can lead to poorer performance and less attention to detail. Management of the impact of shift work includes decreasing the number of safety critical tasks at night, understanding the effects of biological rhythms and need for shift worker recuperation. If there is not effective communication within all parties of the workforce, then there can be missing information, inaccurate information and misunderstandings. Improving communication includes outlining the key information that needs to be communicated, taking notes and using visual aids such as computer screens, and, allowing sufficient communication time during shift changeover. Supervisors and managers must not appear to condone bad health and safety practices. Influencing safe behavior includes education, training, good ergonomic design, goal setting and employee feedback programs.
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