Human Factors in Risk Assessment

When we address human factors in relation to health and safety, we're aiming to optimise human performance and reduce human failures. Organisations need to take a proportionate approach to human factors in risk assessment based on their hazard and risk profile.

HSE's approach to risk assessment is presented in the 'Controlling the risks in the workplace' . The assessment of human failures is implicit in that process. Where it needs to be made more explicit is where the hazard warrants it ie where there is a major hazard or significant occupational health and safety hazard. In either case, you need an adequate understanding of the human role in the relevant task or activity.

Key Principles in integrating Human Factors in Risk Assessment:

  • Through your risk assessment, you should have identified those tasks which are safety critical or expose people occupational health hazards;
  • Ensure you have an understanding of how these tasks are carried out and the environment in which they are performed. This may include walking and talking through the task where it is carried out.
  • Involve the workforce in carrying out the assessment and the identification of appropriate controls;
  • The people carrying out the assessment should have an understanding of the different types of failure and the factors that make them more or less likely to occur;
  • Identify the human failures that could be made in the task which might lead to an accident of incident and the performance influencing factors that make those failures more or less likely to occur.
  • Identify appropriate control measures which prevent or mitigate the human failures you have identified;
  • Where possible you should aim to design out the potential for human failure and design in the potential for recovery should human failure occur. This includes design of the plant, system, environment and task, taking into account the needs and capabilities of users. Reliance on procedures and training are unlikely to be sufficient.
  • Check that your control measures work. Regularly review your risk assessment to see if any further improvements can be made.
  • The approach you take to human factors in risk assessment should be proportionate to hazards you face. For most industries a qualitative approach will be sufficient. An example of a qualitative framework that has been found to be useful and effective is the approach outlined in Core Topic 3 of Human Factors Inspectors Toolkit (pdf). For some major hazard industries a quantitative approach may be appropriate.

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