Media Release: Sustainable improvement is down to human factors


AVOIDING accidents and ill health at work in the future will depend on a better understanding of how we interact within every aspect of the workplace.

In the past, improvements in health and safety and environmental performance have been achieved by more efficient engineering and enhanced safety management systems.

But according to the experts on how humans react to technology, what’s known as the Human Factor’s principles will be key to improved safety at work.

Tim Southam of Aberdeen-based Facilitators Quality Management (FQM), says: “Human Factors is about taking proper account of people’s characteristics and abilities – including their attitude and likely behaviour – when designing or modifying tasks, procedures, equipment, operations and work environments.

“Failure to address any of these elements satisfactorily could adversely affect health and safety, efficiency, reliability and business productivity.”

Human Factors, or HF as it is often referred to, covers all aspects of design and operations from workplace design, man-machine interface; plant design, manually handling large or heavy loads; to personal protective equipment and job design in terms of ‘can we achieve what is expected of us’.

But, according to Tim, the system is being overlooked in the workplace.

“Maybe it’s forgotten because it’s regarded as common sense. Human Factors or ergonomics is far-reaching and not limited to the design of door handles and workstations but every aspect of managing humans in a working environment.

“One can see that HF will play a part in all hardware and software systems, human interaction, equipment and plant, procedures and working environment design. Leave out people-centric thinking and the systems will fall apart.

“But perhaps the real reason it’s not included is because of a perception it costs time and money. Also some people don’t understand what is required and don’t refer to the relevant ISO standards.

“I believe some designers and engineers are not trained in HF and don’t understand the limitations of the people working with the equipment.

“It also raises difficult and awkward questions. Although I think the vast majority of personnel involved in this process do want to produce safe designs, there is still a long way to go to have HF accepted as a fundamental element within the design process.”

According to Tim, there are many benefits of including HF into the design:

1. Increased individual and business performance through reduced opportunity for human failure.

2. Systems and processes are aligned and more productive through open communication and more involvement.

3. Change is managed more effectively.

4. Legislation and guidance are put into practice.

But putting it into practice depends on commitment, dedication, education and perseverance. 

Tim continues: “Firstly, ensuring that the organisation has an HF strategy and policy will provide top-level leadership endorsement. New projects are the most beneficial way to start putting HF into practice and then rolling the processes out to the remaining parts of the business.

“Secondly, providing guidance and training to a small team can infiltrate the organisation and can be a focal point for understanding. Task analysis will ensure that the opportunity for people to make errors and mistakes are reduced before the project goes live.

“Design issues can be dealt with prior to final design and operators can have a direct input in embodying lessons learned from the past. This will reduce the number of incidents which have to be dealt with through human error analysis after the event.

“Future performance gains will only be achieved by taking more account of the way people interact with every aspect of the workplace through the integration and understanding of the HF principles into day-to-day operations.

“The top ten HF issues recognised by the Health and Safety Executive include organisational change, de-manning and staffing levels, training and competency, fatigue from shift-work and maintenance error. HF covers an enormous number of issues but they can usually be identified and resolved by those who know best: the workforce.

“The Health and Safety Executive have updated regulations, such as Safety Case and COMAH, and now make it perfectly clear that HF must be taken fully into account in the management of major accident hazards. Accidents don’t just happen. The majority of accidents can be prevented.

“Eighty-eight per cent of accidents are caused by intentional or unintentional human error compared to ten percent for hardware failures, and two percent inexplicable.

“But by implementing new thinking and achieving greater understanding of how people interact in the business, performances can be improved.

“Better involvement of the workforce through open communication will achieve greater hazard identification and risk management. The workforce becomes more reliable, and more focused which leads to evolving ‘best practice’.

“Consistency is achieved between similar assets and management is seen to be more visible in its support for safety activities. The regulator has greater trust that HF issues are being addressed satisfactorily leading to reduced lost workday cases and significantly lower potential for at-risk activities.

“The management system is more proactive and actions are reviewed and closed out expediently.”

Notes to editors

FQM is part of the Process Excellence division of Aberdeen -based Facilitators International LLP.

Facilitators International LLP comprises three divisions, namely Process Excellence (dealing with the promotion of best practice through improved process which includes FQM), Project Excellence (consultancy and resources in the Project Management and Project Controls disciplines) and People Excellence (HR support and training). The company works with many North Sea operators, major contractors and service companies in the energy industry. It is based in Aberdeen and headed by partners Allan Dick, Dr Clive Randall and Mike Howard. For further information on Facilitators International LLP visit www.facilitators.co.uk or call (01224) 628260.

Photo caption; please find enclosed a photo of Tim Southam.

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