Natural disasters make human errors more likely

February 23, 2012

Researchers have found that humans are more prone to making mistakes in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Whilst previous research suggests this happens after man-made disasters – for example, leading to an increased number of fatal car accidents – no research had before looked at natural disasters until the 2010 earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand, presented researchers with an unexpected opportunity.

Participants who became anxious after the disaster displayed increased reaction times than normal, but made a larger number of mistakes.  Those who became depressed had slower reaction times than normal.

“These findings also suggest that police, emergency responders, and others working in the aftermath of the disaster may also experience cognitive disruption, which can interfere with their ability to perform rescue-related tasks.”

Although based on a single study, these findings may be relevant to those working in the energy and allied process industries, particularly when planning emergency responses, however further research may be needed.

Human factors – the biggest challenge in offshore oil and gas safety?

February 21, 2012

A survey of offshore safety professionals, conducted in advance of the 2nd annual Offshore Safety Summit on 19-21 March 2012 in Aberdeen, has reported that 48.6% of respondents see human factors as the biggest challenge to the offshore sector at the moment.

This is compared to 10.8% who see problems with technology and equipment as the key issue, and a similar amount who believe having the right HSE processes in place and reacting to new legislation to be the biggest challenges.

Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly 75% of respondents believe that since the 2010 Gulf of Mexico incident there is more pressure being placed on industry by the regulators to improve health and safety.

This raises several questions.

There is a wealth of information available on human factors, including the EI website, HSE website, OGP and Step Change in Safety websites, and more on the way.  Does the challenge of human factors arise from there not being enough information available? (If so, what more is needed?)  Does it stem from a lack of understanding of human factors?  (What can be done?)  Is it because human factors is such a departure from the hard science and technology subjects that engineers and operators usually know so well?  Or is human factors simply a difficult subject to integrate into an organisation’s safety management system?

Human factors developments for 2012

February 8, 2012

In the last HOF Blog post, you learnt about the HOFCOM, the EI’s Human and Organisational Factors Committee, who oversee development of our human factors resources – most of which are available freely online from the EI website –

The HOFCOM undertakes a number of human factors projects every year, producing new resources like guidance for industry and practical tools, and it should be no surprise that 2012 will be no exception!

Training materials to bridge the gap

Work is underway to develop training materials for a 4-day ‘human factors foundation course’.

Currently there is a gap in knowledge between those who have an awareness of human factors issues and those who are able to fully run and manage human factors initiatives, making it difficult for companies to train people up to the required standard to oversee large projects and to manage human factors in their own work.  One reason for this is that human factors is not always adequately addressed within degree level engineering courses.

This project aims to develop a complete set of training materials for a 4-day course, including a slide pack, teaching notes, workshop exercises and assessment questions.  Negating the need to produce bespoke materials for every new human factors training course, these materials will be made available to companies/institutions, either to run a stand-alone course, or to incorporate into existing courses, including at undergraduate and masters level.

The materials are being developed by Human Reliability Associates, who run the human factors module within the University of Sheffield’s ‘Process safety and loss prevention’ MSc(Eng) course, and are being developed in consultation with IMechE, Cogent, HSE and HSL, among other stakeholders.  The goal is for these materials to set the standard for human factors training.

Web-based course

In support of this, the EI is soon to launch a free web-based Human factors awareness training course.  This aims to give those working in industry an awareness of the most pertinent human factors issues and some of the methodologies by which they can be managed.

Developed by Greenstreet Berman, the course also assesses participants’ learning and records their score, intending to raise awareness and prepare for further development, such as more advanced training as provided by the EI’s human factors and accident investigation face-to-face training courses and the foundation course materials.

Qualitative human reliability analysis

Directed by the EI’s SILs/LOPA Working Group, we are producing Guidance on quantified human reliability analysis (QHRA).

Integration of human factors into major hazards operations subject to safety cases/reports requires use of robust data in risk assessments; however, there lacks practical information on the use of human error probability (HEP) data in human reliability analysis (HRA). This project aims to develop practical guidance on quantification of human failure in risk assessment for a primary audience who need to be competent ‘intelligent customers’, whether such services are provided in-house or using external resource.

Fatigue management and crew resource management

The HOFCOM have also received funding for two more projects to begin this year.

Firstly to revise the EI fatigue guide: Improving alertness through effective fatigue management.  First published in 2006, this guidance document will be updated with the latest good practice on fatigue management, including on the growing area of fatigue management/recording systems, as well as pertinent new research findings.

Secondly, we aim to produce a guidance document on crew resource management (CRM) and non-technical skills (notechs).  This new guidance document will set out the case for CRM/notechs training, its benefits, its subject matter, and good practice on what CRM/notechs training should include.  The UK HSE believes there is a strong case for the energy sector to adopt CRM principles and this document aims to highlight this.

Hearts and Minds

Last but not least, the EI co-ordinated Hearts and Minds programme has funded two PhDs on ‘learning from incidents’ and ‘safety leadership’ respectively, both of which are nearing completion.

It is anticipated that the findings of this research will drive further development of the Hearts and Minds toolkit (watch this space), including plans to conduct follow-up research and to produce a practical ‘learning from incidents’ toolkit to help sites engage with and apply learning in their local operations.

Phew! If that’s 2012, what might 2013 look like?

What would you like to see produced to help you manage human factors?  Perhaps you identify with some of the gaps raised here?  Or maybe you’d like to share different views on what you might like to see in HOFCOM’s forward work programme, based on what would be helpful to your operations?

To keep up to date with the EI’s human factors work programme, visit the EI human factors website.

Who are the HOFCOM?

February 3, 2012

You’ve heard of the HOF Blog (after all, you’re reading it!) but who are the HOFCOM?

The EI offers a strong human factors technical work programme with a focus on the energy industry, making a large collection of human factors resources (tools, guidance documents, etc.) available freely on its website,  Furthermore, we’ve been adding to that collection by 2 or 3 titles per year, developed training courses and ran conferences.

But have you ever wondered who makes it all happen?

The Human and Organisational Factors Committee (HOFCOM) was formed in 2001.  Comprising representatives from BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Magnox Sites, the Health and Safety Executive, and specialist consultants, all giving their time freely, the HOFCOM steers the EI’s human factors work programme.

Meeting 4 times per year, the HOFCOM is responsible for proposing new human factors projects for funding by the EI’s Technical Partners.  Ideas for projects may arise from issues encountered within committee member’s own companies, current ‘hot topics’, regulatory concerns, or in response to incidents.  While committee members draw on their own experiences and those of their respective companies, they leave their ‘corporate hats’ at the door – ensuring proposed projects are for the benefit of all industry rather than just one particular company.

The HOFCOM will define the project and then oversee its development by a subject specialist contractor.  After carefully selecting a contractor to develop the work, the HOFCOM then steers the project from start to finish.  In the process, they will call upon the help of industry and subject matter specialists to peer review work, the goal being to ensure that the finished product meets a high standard and the needs of the energy industry, whether operating companies, regulators or consultancies.

The result?  In just the last few years alone a wealth of new resources has been produced, for example:

So there you have it, now you know who the HOFCOM are and what they do.  The question is: how could you become engaged?  This could be through reviewing work, highlighting key areas for future development, or, if you are an employee of one of the EI’s Technical Partner Companies or its Technical Company Members for the safety theme, you might want to consider becoming a member of the HOFCOM.  Contact Stuart King for more information.