“Human error versus human capability: Which way should the pendulum swing?”
Human factors can be defined as “the technology concerned to optimize the relationship between people and their activities by the systematic application of the human sciences, integrated within the framework of system engineering” (Edwards, 1988, p. 9). Human factors have evolved over the years since the birth of tools many millennia ago (Civil Aviation Authority, 2002). The modern evolution of human factors happened in the last century (Civil Aviation Authority, 2002). The technology that surpassed human capability in the First World War saw the need for an effective human factors approach (Civil Aviation Authority, 2002). A scientific approach was also used in the selection and training of staff (Civil Aviation Authority, 2002). Human factors were institutionalized with the advent of organizations such as the Human Factors Society (Civil Aviation Authority, 2002). The safety system in place today in the aviation industry was formulated at a time when the aircraft was seen as the reason behind almost all accidents (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2003). Fifty years on, aviation accidents can be attributed more to human error than those of the aircraft (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2003). As such, the human causes of the accidents need to be addressed in a more effective manner, in order to see a reduction in aviation accidents (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2003). This essay explores the integration between human error management and human performance capability in human factors. With relevant examples, it argues that more should be invested in error reduction than in performance capabilities.
Human error is simply defined as when humans make mistakes (Whittingham, 2004). There are many influential reasons to human mistakes, but an obvious reason would be human error occurs when a person commits an error due to their shortcomings rather than external factors (Civil Aviation Authority, 2003). According to Reason (1990), errors hold different meanings. In terms of cognitive theory, errors give reason to routine human actions. For applied practitioners, errors are a threat for high-risk technologies to operate safely. Errors by humans could also contribute to both human and economic damage. Factors such as depression, disappointment and stress could disable people in performing their duties, and negative emotions due to responsibility ineffectiveness may result in errors (Campbell & Bagshaw, 2002). Also, when large sums are spent on error mitigation, organizations are forced to reduce spending on other factors such as salary and bonuses for their employees. One of the many industries that human error can occur in is the aviation industry, which will be the focus of this essay. As human error has caused more than 70 percent of aviation accidents, many of those were caused by communication breakdown, teamwork and decision-making rather than technical drawbacks (Helmreich, 1997). Many questions were raised on how well-trained personnel can crash an aircraft that is fit for flight (Helmreich, 1997). As such, programs and training are being provided to minimize the effects of human error in the industry (Helmreich, 1997). Programs like crew resource management or CRM for short were developed to tackle these issues (Helmreich, 1997). One of the more well-known systems perspectives is the SHEL model, made popular by Edwards (1988) (cited in Wiegmann and Shappell, 2003). Its name is derived from the initial letters of its four components. The first letter “S” represents software, where it reflects on regulations, manuals and standard operating procedure on how crews operate (Wiegmann and Shappell, 2003). The letter “H” on other hand represents hardware, which comprises of the actual cockpit, like the flight controls, seat design and computer system (Wiegmann and Shappell, 2003). The letter “E” represents environment, which consist of elements such as, temperature,...
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