Safety and Human Error

Safety and Human Error

George’s Safety Reflections – classic post by the late George Robotham

When you pick up the newspaper and listen to the television or radio you will find terms like driver error, human error and pilot error used frequently as if this was the definitive reason why “accidents”, occur. Authorities such as the police may have a focus on human error so they can find out who to blame and penalise after car crashes.

A major objection to the human error concept is that there is usually a focus on the “errors” of the individual who was damaged and people do not look at the contribution of others who developed and managed the overall system being worked in. The term human error often misdirects effort in safety. .

The human error concept is an accepted part of our society but the reality is that the terminology is emotive, ill-defined, means different things to different people and in a lot of cases automatically infers blame. Even if the dependence on the human error concept was true, it is unhelpful. The trouble with the human error concept is that some organisations will concentrate on people fixes and forget about the equipment and environment fixes. Often fixing the person is the least effective way of getting meaningful change. For critical issues it is often more reliable to depend on things instead of people.

The above recognises there is a part to play in training workers and have supervisors enforce that the learnt behaviour occurs. You need to recognise that a “Least time, least effort” approach is a natural tendency with human beings and this is sometimes responsible for the behaviour you see.

For additional information refer to the Human Error Concept paper on

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