Human factors in data security

December 6, 2010

“Security experts [in Singapore] are calling for greater emphasis on human factors in dealing with IT security risks and reiterating the need for technology to be the last line of defense” including educating workers about the risks of data mismanagement through training.  Source: ZD Net.

 As an observation, this argument appears particularly valid in light of the recent discovery of the Stuxnet computer virus in an Iranian nuclear facility, which can potentially attack and take control of critical systems (leading to shutdowns or even explosions).  Importantly, the virus is thought to have been bought into the facility by a USB device (whether deliberately or unintentionaly is unknown).  It’s prudent to say, with the advent of the Stuxnet virus, human factors in data management deserves a second-thought.

HFES releases vol. 6 of Human factors and ergonomics review

December 3, 2010

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society has published vol. 6 of its annual Human factors and ergonomics review, which includes chapters dedicated to space and transport accident investigation, supervision, as well as team-based judgment and decision making.  The series “now constitutes a collection of 41 in-depth reviews of human factors/ergonomics work on topics of concern to HF/E researchers and practitioners and to other users of the findings of HF/E research.”  Source: OH & S

Vol. 6 of Human factors and ergonomics review is available from the HFES website.

Demystifying human factors

December 2, 2010

This autumn, the EI held two new human factors training courses. The first focused on the key human factors issues, including fatigue, safety culture, procedures, organisational change, training and competence, and human failure, and expanded upon the EI’s human factors Briefing Notes.  A second training course focused specifically on human factors in accident and incident investigation.

The training courses were attended by people representing a range of industries including oil and gas, alternative energy, shipping and defence.  It is worth noting that attendees thought they needed to learn more about the ‘theory’ behind human factors, in order to learn how to improve their safety culture so that they could get their staff and contractors to “consistently do what we want them to do” or to “work safely 100% of the time, without needing to constantly remind them”.  This highlights a clear difference between the perceptions of human factors and the reality of what human factors is. 

Human factors is concerned with the practical application of theory (which may have its origins in one or several disciplines, from psychology to industrial design) in order to improve operational and safety performance.  Whilst human factors tools can be used to improve a company’s safety culture (which will improve behaviour) no single tool or methodology provides a quick fix. Used effectively, such tools and methodologies will also identify and address commonplace issues in an organisation that can cause unsafe behaviour (e.g. making access to equipment easier, improving leadership, addressing fatigue, improving training, etc.).

The EI human factors courses do not simply teach the ‘theory’ of human factors, moreover, they are intended to provide guidance on the practical application of human factors methodologies.  There are no straightforward ways to improve people’s safety behaviour – balancing human factors’ interdisciplinary origins with the idiosyncratic nature of organisational culture leads to the conclusion: there is no ‘magic bullet’.

Whilst the courses offer no easy answers to the complex problems attendees face in their organisations, the courses demystify human factors, and aim to equip people with the knowledge on how to apply human factors more effectively, and provide them with a greater appreciation of what they need to do and why they need to do it. 

The EI Human factors training courses, developed and delivered by Bill Gall (Kingsley Management Ltd.), are scheduled to run again in April 2011 and September 2011.  For more information, please visit the EI website.