“Human Error” is the Scapegoat for Systemic and Organizational Failures

6 min read
“Human Error” is the Scapegoat for Systemic and Organizational Failures
“Human Error” is the Scapegoat for Systemic and Organizational Failures
“Human Error” is the Scapegoat for Systemic and Organizational Failures

By Mica Endsley, Ph.D.


When a significant accident or catastrophe occurs, the headlines splashed throughout information shops are all too acquainted and typically put the focus away from the place it must be. Earlier this yr, one in all Greece’s worst-ever rail disasters was on account of “tragic human error”, in line with the nation’s prime minister. Recently, the Times of India reported: “Human error behind most rail accidents in final three many years”.

Pointing a finger at the human operator is nothing new. In truth, this method is typically utilized throughout a large spectrum of industries, together with automotive, house exploration, aviation, and well being care, the place some 60-80% of accidents are blamed on the operator. But these statistics don’t inform the full story, and even essentially the proper one.

Uncovering the True Risks

The truth is human error typically is not the fault of the human. Although statistics present some perception, they don’t all the time current a whole or correct image. Recently, Jennifer Homendy, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, publicly urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to take away a report from their web site claiming that 94% of automobile crashes outcome from human error. Homendy defined her reasoning in a tweet, stating, “Simply put: It’s not true. Crashes are extra complicated than that, and we have to perceive all these elements to face an opportunity at lowering visitors deaths in the United States.”

When vehicle accidents occur, it’s simple to level the finger at the driver, however this overlooks numerous danger elements at play, corresponding to climate circumstances, poorly designed roads, or interference from in-vehicle applied sciences. Blaming the particular person behind the wheel doesn’t repair the underlying systemic points that contribute to accidents. We must give attention to addressing these points insteadto enhance security.

For instance, researchers at Johns Hopkins, who reported that 250,000 deaths per yr in the U.S. are on account of medical error,making it the third main reason for loss of life, alluded to this by cautioning readers to look past the numbers. They said thatmost medical errors aren’t on account of inherently dangerous docs however are as a substitute on account of systemic issues.

Often, the root causes of accidents happen nicely earlier than the operator is wherever close to the scene of the accident. During the design section, flaws might be launched when designers don’t take the human operator’s capabilities and limitations into consideration, setting the stage the place “errors” are doubtless.Bad design encourages accidents; good design prevents accidents.

For instance, when Boeing launched the 737-Max8, it did not build-in wanted redundancy in sensor info or to offer shows that will inform pilots of what its newly carried out automation system was doing. These issues straight contributed to 2 main accidents that killed 346 folks.

Often automated techniques are launched with the promise that they are going to “cut back human error”.  In truth, automation typically introduces new issues and creates new errors and accidents.  In the case of the latest rail accident in Greece, for instance, it seems that a defective automation system misrouted the passenger prepare onto the tracks occupied by one other prepare. Between 1972 and 2013, 26 plane accidents had been discovered to be on account of the presence of automation the place the pilots had been considerably challenged in understanding what the automation was doing and interacting with it accurately to keep away from the ensuing accident.

These similar points are coming into play in lots of new vehicles which are automating car management.  Some 736 crashes and 17 fatalities have concerned the Tesla autopilot mode.  While some folks consider that drivers ought to be capable of detect and stop accidents the place automation fails to carry out accurately, a big physique of analysis performed over the previous 40 years reveals this is often unlikely.

Automation causes folks to change into “out-of-the-loop”.  Their consideration simply wanders to different duties, and they change into much less vigilant. Even when they’re centered on what the automation is doing, they typically have bother understanding what it is doing or figuring out what it should do subsequent.  The further time required to find out if the automation is performing accurately or if an intervention is wanted, and what that intervention must be, might be lethal.  Simply stating that “drivers ought to monitor the automation” doesn’t resolve this basic downside.

Designing for Humans

The resolution to the downside of human error is to not punish folks or to attempt to substitute them with automation. The resolution is to design applied sciences that really improve human efficiency, slightly than applied sciences that fail to account for the wants of the individuals who should work together with them.

Solving such systemic design challenges is the major calling of a whole discipline referred to as Human Factors and Ergonomics. This self-discipline conducts and applies scientific analysis on human talents, traits, and limitations and applies that data to the design of apparatus, jobs, techniques and operational environments so as to promote protected and efficient human efficiency. Its aim is to assist the skill of individuals to carry out their jobs safely and effectively, thereby bettering the total efficiency of the mixed human-technology system.The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in the United States has greater than 3,000 members who’re employed in business, authorities and educational analysis.

Human Factors and Ergonomics replaces a misplaced emphasis on blaming the operator or over-reliance on coaching and as a substitute creates systematic enhancements in human efficiency by way of improved system design. While coaching is essential, it can’t overcome poor system designs in the long term. People are nonetheless more likely to make the similar sorts of errors if the system design is not per human capabilities and limitations. Further, a well-designed system that is per a consumer’s wants and is simpler to function is additionally simpler to coach; thus, doubtlessly lowering coaching necessities in addition to bettering human efficiency.

The follow of Human Factors and Ergonomics is primarily based on scientifically derived knowledge on how folks understand, assume, transfer, and act, notably when interacting with expertise. The approach that expertise is designed considerably impacts the efficiency of the individuals who work together with it. The effectivity and accuracy of human efficiency might be tremendously improved when expertise has a user-centered interface designed to accommodate fundamental human capabilities.

User-centered techniques make it simple to navigate by way of screens, for instance and implement options that cut back the probabilities of frequent human errors (corresponding to error tolerance and error resistance). They additionally give attention to presenting info successfully, so that individuals have higher comprehension of important info, even when workload is excessive, leading to a lot larger ranges of efficiency. Conversely, complicated applied sciences, that require paging by way of screens, with difficult-to-read shows are way more liable to errors. If vital effort is required to know a continually altering scenario, it tremendously will increase the probability of human error.

User-centered design approaches are additionally extremely essential when automation is launched. Rather than lowering the want to think about the human operator, automation will increase the problem of the operator’s job and makes it much more essential to think about the way it will have an effect on human efficiency. Human elements analysis reveals that when shows make the habits and capabilities of the automation extra clear to the operator, for instance, it may possibly tremendously cut back the ‘out-of-the-loop’ downside.  Making folks extra situationally conscious by rising their stage of engagement with the process has additionally been proven to be essential.

Automation and synthetic intelligence are being launched in applied sciences throughout us. Paradoxically, slightly than eliminating human error, they merely create many new issues.  Getting the profit of those new applied sciences requires an elevated emphasis on designing techniques that pay cautious consideration to good human elements design and require cautious consumer testing previous to deployment.  People have by no means been extra essential.

About the Author

Dr. Mica Endsley is the Government Relations Chair for the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society (HFES). She’s additionally president of SA Technologies, a situational consciousness analysis, design, and coaching agency. She was previously the Chief Scientist of the United States Air Force.

Neel Achary

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