Job hazards get a lot of attention in the safety world. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause, an employer is legally obligated to provide a workplace reasonably free of recognized hazards.
However, when it comes to the management of occupational health and safety, human factors deserve just as much attention, as they can be just as detrimental to worker health and safety as hazards.
What are human factors, and how can you successfully manage them? Here’s a quick introduction to the topic to help your EHS team get started.
What are Human Factors?
The term human factors describes the relationship between three interrelated aspects:
- Individuals at work
- The task at hand
- The workplace itself
As a science, human factors relies on multiple disciplines ranging from anatomy to biomechanics to understand how people perform. In simple terms, human factors can be understood as the study of all factors that make it easier to do work the right way.
While it primarily focuses on three aspects outlined above, it can also account for a variety of other factors, including safety procedures in the workplace, workplace design, tasking, worker competency, and worker skill.
How Human Factors Impact Safety
The key word to remember in “human factors” is “human”, i.e. everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, the cost of human error is quite high.
In October 2020, for instance, nearly 16,000 COVID-19 cases went unreported due to an Excel error of Public Health of England. Elsewhere, in Virginia, an incorrectly aligned spreadsheet which matched voters with their local registrar’s office resulted in more than 500,000 voters erroneously receiving absentee ballot applications.
And in healthcare safety, for example, the global cost of medication error is an estimated $42 billion USD annually.
The point is that everyone is human, and those human mistakes come with major costs in safety. While hazards get the most attention, human factors can be just as detrimental in safety outcomes. As a safety manager, your job is to mitigate them.
Managing Human Factors
While no danger can be fully eliminated from a workplace, and human factors are no exception, they can certainly be managed.
Your foremost concern in managing human factors is making employees aware of the problem, which means strong staff training to provide mitigation tools. This should not be approached punitively, but rather as a technique to improve the whole staff’s performance.
You should also keep in mind that employees are the ones most likely to spot these issues, since they outnumber you. This means employee buy-in is critical to creating a culture that supports successful management of occupational health and safety, including human factors.
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Ready for a smarter approach to safety management? Get in touch today to learn how our software can support your team.