Human factor refers to the involvement of humans who behave at work in a way which can affect their health and safety. Health and safety is widely influenced by human factors such as job, organizational and individual or personal factors.
According to H.W.Heinrich’s accident pyramid or triangle, there are 330 opportunities to investigate minor accidents and near miss incidents to prevent a major accident. The UK HSE states that 90% of all accidents occur due to human factors and 70% of all accidents could have been eliminated if the management was proactive.
Figure 1: Accident pyramid showing accidents/incidents ratios. Source
An organization is a company or corporate body that manages health and safety. It is necessary for an organization to have a positive health and safety culture which means to have a properly developed and maintained OHS management system.
There are some restrictions which can make an OHS management system weak such as the members of the management who does not get enough training for their particular positions since the higher the position the lesser the training.
Therefore, an organization need to take measures that demonstrates a good health and safety culture and ensure the involvement of the workforce in order to enhance better health and safety. The factors that weakens a health and safety management system are:
- imperfect work planning and high work pressure;
- insufficient safety arrangements and the following obstacles;
- not responding immediately to previous accidents or incidents;
- management corresponding to one side communications;
- ineffective coordination and responsibilities;
- improper maintenance of health and safety;
- weak health and safety culture.
Certain jobs can be extremely risky and hazardous and the insufficient management of these risks and hazards will not help in the effective management of health and safety at work. Therefore, health and safety plays an essential role in the planning stage of job and during the production period of any machinery or processes.
The aspects of a weak occupational health and safety are faulty equipment and machinery design, continuous restrictions and obstacles, improper communication of instructions, weak equipment maintenance, high workload and non-ergonomically designed work stations.
Figure 2: Example of an ergonomically designed chair and work station. Source
Working individuals are prone to various types of personal factors that can influence their health and safety at work. There are numerous individual factors that affect health and safety such as hearing and memory loss, language and communication restrictions, poor physical health, age, current position and training and competence but the three important characteristics are psychological: attitude, motivation and perception.
Attitude: A person’s susceptibility to act in a distinct manner to a work situation which can affect their health and safety at work. Attitude should be changed in order to gain a positive health and safety culture.
Motivation: An irresistible energy or force that will stimulate a person to behave in a way which can help them to improve their psychological health and safety condition at workplace. Some conditions that can have an impact on motivation at work include recognition and promotion, job security and satisfaction and self-interest.
Perception: This is a way in which a person understands a work situation or any work hazards. The chances of accidents or injuries happening increases because of a person’s incapability of not identifying a risk or hazard. Some examples are, not using PPE, improper hand washing before and after meals and not complying with any of the safety laws.
Figure 3: Examples of bad attitude and perception at work. Source
Human Errors and Violations
“A report by the UK HSE found that senior management failures resulted in 61% of all accidents, and 47% of those accidents had human causes.”
Human failures are failure of a planned action to achieve a desired outcome. They are primarily divided into errors and violations.
Human Errors are further divided into skill-based errors and mistakes and violations are further divided into routine, situational and exceptional violations.
Slips: Unsuccessful performance during a task or unintended actions. Examples are:
- not using correct switch
- reading the wrong dial
- choosing an incorrect component for an assembly
- taking a step too early or too late for a particular working procedure
Lapses: Forgetting to carry out a step in a work process. An example of a lapse is a fork-lift truck driver leaving the keys in the ignition lock of his truck. Lapses can be fixed by reconstructing the equipment or procedure.
Rule-based mistakes: Occurs when a person takes a wrong step or recollects a wrong procedure during a task even though the rule is followed. Wrong counting or miscounting of a group of items is an example of rule-based mistakes.
Knowledge-based mistakes: Occurs due to insufficient knowledge of how to perform a task that results in the development of a solution which is incorrect and not expected. For example, measuring the foundation depth of a sandy soil for a building using a clay soil formula.
Failure to apply a good rule is known as violation.
Routine violation: A routine violation is one in which going against the rules is very common and normal to do. For example, using fork-lifts in greater speed in a warehouse to meet the deadline.
Situational violation: This occurs due to situational factors such as work time pressure, workplace design or inappropriate equipment that causes an individual to violate the rules since they find it difficult or unsafe to comply with the normal rule.
Exceptional violation: This violation is a fairly rare occurrence and happens when a safety rule is violated due to abnormal or emergency situations or to perform a new task. These violations are generally communicated during training sessions and an example of exceptional violation is breaking a rule during fires explosions.
Figure 4: Types of Human Errors. Source
Therefore, human factors are extremely effective in developing a positive health and safety culture. The management and employees of a company should try their level best to eliminate all the organizational, job and individual factors that lead to an unsuccessful OHS management system. An effective communication with the employees and others involved in the company and proper education and training will help to reduce or eliminate the human errors and violation in order to develop a successful OHS management system.