Human Performance

Human Performance – Error Precursors & Safety

Human Performance vs. Safety Management System vs. Behavior Based Safety

A lot of talk in the Safety world lately has focused on the theories of Human Performance, and how it may enable your organization to more effectively manage safety risks and ultimately keep your employees safe. As organizations continue to define and refine their safety processes, Human Performance is one method that combines the best of Safety Management Systems (e.g. ISO 45001) and Behavior Based Safety. When considering Human Performance, one of the key elements to address involves error precursors.

What is an Error Precursor?

In the simplest of terms, error precursors are conditions & behaviors that lead to errors. They are not mysterious or obscure and are typically known to employees and are observable (if you look for them). If they can be identified, they can be mitigated, thus reducing the risk of an incident and subsequent injury to employees.

As stated in the DOE Standard Human Performance Improvement, Error precursors typically fall into one of four categories:

  1. Task Demands
  2. Individual Capabilities
  3. Work Environment
  4. Human Nature

Common Error Precursors

Task Demands

  1. Time Pressure (in a hurry)
  2. High workload, mental pressure
  3. Simultaneous, multiple actions, multi-tasking
  4. Repetitive actions, mundane, monotony
  5. Irreversible actions (not necessarily a precursor, but often overlooked)
  6. Interpretation requirements, vague procedures, unclear procedures
  7. Unclear goals, roles, responsibilities
  8. Lack of unclear standards

Individual Capabilities

  1. Unfamiliar with task, first time, non-routine
  2. Lack of knowledge or proficiency
  3. New techniques not used before
  4. Poor communication
  5. Poor problem solving skills
  6. Unsafe attitudes
  7. Illness or fatigue, general poor health, injury
  8. Ability to handle stress

Work Environment

  1. Distractions and interruptions
  2. Changes from the routine
  3. Confusing displays, controls, signage
  4. Work-arounds
  5. Unexpected equipment conditions or response
  6. Personality conflicts
  7. Environmental factors (e.g. noise, temperature, lighting)

Human Nature

  1. Stress
  2. Habits
  3. Assumptions
  4. Complacency or overconfidence
  5. Mind-set (intentions)
  6. Inaccurate risk perception
  7. Mental shortcuts or biases
  8. Limited short term memory

Human Performance Safety Tools

When mitigating the error precursors identified in your organization, it’s vital to use tools that reduces human error via: increasing situational awareness, increasing mindfulness, increase risk assessment, increase self awareness, foster excellent communication, slow down activities to allow employees to think through the risks, provide for continuous improvement, and increases employee engagement.