Human error on the job is inevitable because no one is perfect. It may not be possible to completely prevent human error, but is very much possible to minimize or mitigate it. Some of the worst-known disasters in the past have been on account of human error - Chernobyl, the Challenger Shuttle, Three-Mile Islands, Bhopal, etc. It has also been proven that some specific industries have a higher incidence of human errors given the nature of the job - healthcare, mining, small-scale manufacturing, etc. One of the primary reasons ascribed to human error on the job, by analysts and scientists, is the fact that human evolution and physiology has not been able to adapt to the modern work environment. Some of the important factors which cause human error have been found to revolve around four major concepts - attention, perception, memory and logical reasoning. How do we reduce human error on the job? Read through the brief guidelines listed below.
Attention. Human attention on a task can be maintained for an average of about 20 minutes. Beyond this time, fatigue occurs and the situation is then ripe for errors. Other than the span of attention, the number of tasks required to be carried out simultaneously can also impact the situation. Getting habituated to a particular task can also cause the attention to wander while carrying out that task. The solution - prescribe frequent periods of rest based on the type of job, control the number of tasks carried out simultaneously and automate as many tasks as possible to do away with human interference.
Perception. Lack of visible information forces humans to perceive or interpret such information, which can lead to disastrous consequences. Detecting danger signals also depend a lot on the visual stimulus the human brain needs to comprehend danger. Improving the amount of visual information provided on critical tasks will mitigate errors to a greater extent.
Memory. The capacity to store information in case of a number of instructions to complete a particular task can vary from person to person. Some can retain about 7 items on an average, while others might be able to retain more or less. Besides capacity, the ability to retrieve stored memory or the levels at which memory can be processed is not uniform to all individuals. The solution lies in providing advanced and continuous training, simulating actual job conditions while imparting training and the degree of information provided must have a direct correlation to the task.
Logical reasoning. Not all humans excel at logical reasoning, we're prone to assimilate information by what we hear, see, feel or touch, rather than carrying out a rational thinking process. Depending on the senses could cause us to misread information and thereby cause errors. To alleviate this problem, system design should include allowances for probable error; standardization of equipment will also help. Inculcating a safety culture at the workplace with continuous learning, frequent testing and inspections will assist in reducing the human error component.
The four factors discussed above are the basic framework, in which the addition of safeguards or foolproof designing will help in reducing human errors on the job. All said and done, the response to safety and error-free work has to be a combination of individual alertness and flexibility, coupled with intelligent system design and the constant reinforcement of a health and safety culture.