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Human Factors – How Do They Impact Safety?

Safety managers who take time to put detailed safety programs in place will likely have significantly safer workplaces. It is also important, though, that safety professionals prepare for the human factors involved in safety, which are often much more difficult to control than tangible things like written documents and safety signs.

Human factors generally refer to things that impact human behavior such as organizational, environmental, personal and job considerations. For example, an employee whose job demands a certain speed of production might neglect putting on PPE because it is time consuming. Another employee who has been performing a repetitive task for hours might pay less attention to doing something in a safe, ergonomic way. Sometimes human factors are specific to individual employees, while others are related to larger organizational policies and procedures.

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Consider the Research

Research shows that over time employees grow used to tasks and perform them automatically without as much thought, which can lead to errors. Experts in the field of human behavior also believe there are many contributors to the choices employees make about their safety, and many times it’s not the lazy employees who ignore procedure, but those who want to perform better for the company. Consequently, employers and safety managers must demonstrate that following safety procedures benefits everyone.

According to a recent survey of over 1,000 safety professionals conducted by the Safety Daily Advisor, dealing with human factors is considered very important because these factors lead to many injuries. In fact, 80.4 percent of responders said the greatest challenge related to injury prevention is dealing with human factor incidents such as slips, trips, falls and sprains. Employees make mistakes, and it’s impossible to avoid 100 percent of those mistakes.

Additionally, many responders also cited employees disregarding safety procedures such as wearing PPE as contributing to a significant amount of accidents. In most workplaces, employees occasionally take shortcuts while doing their work. Employers tend to think most of these shortcuts occur because employees don’t consider the risks or they don’t believe they’ll get hurt. Another commonly held belief is that employees take shortcuts for emotional reasons: they feel tired, frustrated or rushed.

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To a certain extent, noncompliance problems—and even mistakes that lead to injuries—can be controlled by employers. In the Safety Daily Advisor’s survey, almost all safety professionals (95 percent) believe actively engaging employees in safety can help prevent human factor accidents. This could involve reminders about wearing PPE or taking proper precautions when lifting heavy objects. Furthermore, 99 percent of survey responders say they encourage workers to report safety problems, which can help create a culture where employees feel more comfortable and pay more attention to safety issues.

In general, training is a key tool for injury prevention, and most safety professionals (79 percent) find field training—rather than classroom instruction—proves most effective at getting employees to behave safely on the job.

Human factors in the workplace can never be eliminated, but safety managers are taking steps to avoid as many accidents related to these factors as possible. Some situations like those involving new hires or temporary workers may prove especially difficult since those employees are less familiar with safety procedures. Managers should keep in mind, though, that everyone—not just new workers—needs to pay attention to safety. It’s true that new employees might make mistakes because they aren’t knowledgeable about standard operating procedures, but seasoned employees make mistakes, too, and often for the opposite reason: they know the procedures so well they sometimes pay less attention to safety or think their methods of doing a job are more effective. Consequently, paying attention to the impact human factors have on safety is important throughout the workforce.