Human Factors and Safety

The one common factor in all places of work is this: It involves human.

Everyone who goes to work deserves to go home safe and sound to their family.

Human factors help us to understand the following to make workplace a safe place to work:

Human Characteristics

Our abilities and limitations,how we process information, think and make decision. Our attitudes and behaviour.

Job Characteristics

Tasks: what do our tasks and work involve? Do they involve repetitive motion and constant bending? What about heavy lifting? How often do we get a break from work?

Equipment: What equipment do we use at work? Are they designed to help us or hinder us? How can we make it easier for people to use? How do you measure "user-friendliness"?

Workplace: What are ergonomically designed workstations? Can we see the important dials and are we able to control the knobs without stretching? Is the workplace free from hazards that could make us trip and fall?

Organisational Characteristics

What kind of safety culture is there in our place of work? What sort of leaders do we have there? How is teamwork supported to ensure optimal team performance? Is there considersation for socio-technical systems design?


Read Mr. Hawazi Daipi's speech given at the recent Safety Symposium 2010 organised by UniSIM and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University:

Understanding ‘human factors’ can help us to better manage workplace safety and health (WSH), says SPS Hawazi Daipi ...

Human Factors (Ergonomics)
is the science of understanding human capabilities, limitations, behaviour and emotions and applying this knowledge to design and evaluate systems, workplaces and environment to ensure that they are safe to work in and employees are able to be productive and happy at work..

Many WSH professionals are familiar with Rrisk Analysis & Assessment and implementing Safety Management Systems. These are their bread and butter activities in improving workplace health and safety.

This programmes covers all these topics and more...

So why is Human Factors so important in WSH?

Simply admonishing workers for not complying is not effective

Why did the operator not don his mask when he was supposed to? Was it because he forgot, he doesn't understand the importance of doing so, or simply because the mask does not fit his small Asian face?

Human factors is about knowing the physical dimensions of people and designing tools, protective equipment, workstations to fit them. Perhaps if it has a better fit and is more comfortable to wear, the worker might be less likely to 'forget' his mask.



Simply asking people to stop making mistakes does not work

Let's face it - people err. Workers make mistakes. Operators forget.

Human factors is about understanding why people err. What caused the error? Was it an error of commission or omission? Was the disaster a consequence of a minor slip or a major decision fault? Why did the person forget?

By understanding the cognitive abilities and limitations of human, knowing how people make decisions and the biases that cause bad decisions, perhaps we can reduce the occurrences of errors and mistakes.

Simply penalizing them for not turning up for work won't do any good.

Punitive actions have only so much mileage. Do you know why your employee is complaining of backache again and refusing to come to work? Or why is he frustrated for being interrupted? Why is he dozing off at work? Why does he look so tired al the time?

Human factors is about understanding what our physical limitations and capabilities are. It's knowing what stresses the body and designing workstations that reduce injuries. It's about figuring out what causes fatigue and designing work-rest schedule that optimises performance.



Simply telling them to behave is not the solution

Implementing safety policies that mean nothing to the workers will not work.

Human factors is about understanding human behaviour, , and motivation, so that management knows what works and what doesn't. Human factors is about getting workers involved in setting those policies; it's about teamwork, about creating ownership. Human factors is about improving self-regulation and eliminating punitive action.

Human factors helps to build a safety culture that is based on conviction rather than compulsion.

Simply changing the light bulb is not going to resolve all problems

A person persistently complaining about the lighting condition may be because he is unhappy with his boss.

Human factors is about having a HOLISTIC view about people at work - how they interact with the technology, workplace and environment. It's about knowing the social aspects at work as well as technology implications. Human factors is about knowing what the causes of a problem are and not merely about finding a solution.

Human factors is an important approach to dealing with WSH issues.
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