Safety & Human Performance: You Can't Have One Without the Other


If we accept that human performance is variable, then error-free human performance is unattainable (i.e. human error cannot be eliminated); but people's ability to adapt and troubleshoot dynamic environments or unexpected situations can also be indispensable in preventing or mitigating an accident.

Following a disaster, persons directly involved in the activities causing the event often receive much of the attention and blame, simply because it is easy to draw causal lines connecting the activities to the negative outcome. This holds true for numerous industrial incidents, both on- and off-shore, that have been investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) since this independent federal agency became operational in 1998.


Process industries such as chemical/petrochemical manufacturing and oil and gas refining depend on human actions to maintain safe operations but multiple CSB incident investigations have found significant gaps regarding the effective management of human factors (HF) by companies in these sectors. HF analyzes interactions between people and various elements of complex systems and incorporates relevant lessons learned from previous incidents and operational experience to enhance overall system performance and reliability.


In 1994, the Center for Chemical Process Safety, CCPS, documented studies showing that human error is a large contributor to fatalities, injuries and property damage in the chemical industry. After an incident, employee decisions and actions are often criticized. Personnel are faulted for breaking or bypassing rules and not following procedures or making flawed decisions. Yet, CSB has repeatedly found that decisions and actions characterized as “poor” post-incident were previously accepted (even sometimes rewarded). Human factors are a critical component in organizational resilience. HF analysis enables an organization to dig deep into latent precursors to failure that can have catastrophic consequences at a facility manufacturing, processing, storing, or shipping HHCs (highly hazardous chemicals).


The discipline of human performance has been around since the late 1960s/1970s. Today, HRO’s (High Reliability Organizations) such as Naval and civilian aviation, nuclear submarines and chemical/refining companies are using human performance to (best case) eliminate accidents, but at least, to reduce the consequences of unwanted outcomes triggered by human error.


At Vetergy, we understand the following:

  1. Even the best people make mistakes
  2. Error-likely situations are predictable, manageable, and preventable
  3. Individual behavior is influenced by an organization’s values and attitudes
  4. People attain high levels of performance because they are encouraged and get reinforcement from leaders, peers, subordinates
  5. Employees are the SOLUTION to improvement, not an impediment
To learn more about Human Factors Analysis at Vetergy, contact us at info@vetergy.com. Check out our monthly and organization-specific workshops here. Sign up for a monthly Virtual HFACS workshop, click here

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