Human Factors & System Safety

Faculty of Engineering, LTH

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Ten Questions about Human Error: A new View of Human Factors and System Safety


Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

When you lose situation awareness, what replaces it? Why do safe systems fail? Should we hold people accountable for their mistakes? Why don't people just follow the procedures? These and other questions make up the "Ten Questions About Human Error", a remarkable mix of human factors, history, philosophy, sociology, ethics and organizational science.

Human factors and system safety are dominated by mechanistic, structuralist models that emphasize components and linkages between them. The influences from Descartes and Newton can be seen everywhere, from the information processing models of cognitive ergonomics, to the latent failures in organizational safety metaphors, to the sequence-of-event (action-reaction) models of accidents, to the preference for quantitativist, experimental human factors research. Consistent with the individualist emphasis of Protestantism and Enlightenment, human factors and system safety also keep taking the individual as their central focus. This leads to problematic interpretations of the human contribution to safety and accidents, and possibly counterproductive notions of control and culpability. While human factors and system safety can point to remarkable successes, the continued usefulness of their models can be understood only if we acknowledge the limits. Problems facing human factors and system safety today‹for example the drift into failure‹show how we need new system models oriented towards organic relationships, transactions and constraints‹not components and mechanical linkages.

The ten questions about human error are not just questions about human error as a phenomenon‹if they are that at all. They are questions about human factors and system safety as disciplines. This book attempts to show where current vocabulary, models, methods, ideas and notions are hampering progress. In every chapter, the book tries to provide directions for new ideas and models that could perhaps better cope with the complexity of problems facing human factors and system safety now.