Examining the Human Side of Incidents

Companies have historically put great emphasis on mechanical failure and physical hazards when evaluating workplace incidents and injuries. While this area deserves attention, another factor sometimes goes unnoticed, leaving companies susceptible to repeating the activity that led to the incident in the first place.

When studying the factors leading to an incident, companies must consider the human factors that played a role in the event coming to fruition. This has come to be known as Human Performance, which has been tagged with a basic definition of components that influence an individual’s ability to perform their work assignments both safely and efficiently.

A proactive step in preventing incidents can be accomplished by identifying these factors of Human Performance and then planning a countermeasure strategy to avoid each rearing its ugly head. While these factors can be abundant as humans respond differently to external forces that strike, a summarized list parallels in conversations of Human Performance.

Absence of Direction

Busy schedules and complacency can plague management both when initiating and when performing a job task. Crews frequently receive incomplete or limited information when starting a job. Lack of information can set the stage for failure. This occurs for varying reasons, but the result is still the same.

While this practice is recognized as unacceptable, the employees still have a responsibility to voice concerns. This is a stellar example of when to use Stop Work Authority and why it is just another tool in each employee’s toolbox. Management knows better than to send a crew to the field without proper preparation, but they are human. Everyone who has the ability to alter the current course has a responsibility to do so.


In addition to a surplus of reasons, that lack of direction can fuel pressure felt by crews in the field. Taking on more than we can handle because of little information or unclear directions can arrive. The focus is put on finishing the job quickly instead of safely. Safety should never be sacrificed for the sake of speed.

That appropriate level of planning and adequate training returns as the best combat maneuvers to prevent stress from taking its toll on those in the workplace. Arming individuals with everything they need to complete the job will yield huge returns, including completing the job successfully and everyone returning home safely at the end of the day.

Inadequate Personal Ability

Sometimes management feels workplace pressure itself. Staffing jobs can be challenging with limitations to the workforce and even limitations in skill. The decision is often made to assign workers to job tasks, and they do not have the experience and training to successfully complete the task at hand.

This is just another example of setting an employee, yourself, and the company up for failure. Even though management might take the appropriate steps to plan and promote a project, employees with a lack of skill needed can unintentionally run the train off the tracks.


Not all Human Performance factors associated with incident and injury belong exclusively to management. Individuals have personal responsibility. Distractions from personal lives can greatly influence workplace behavior and lead to an unfavorable outcome.

An argument with a spouse carrying over into the workday through a continually ringing cellular phone can monopolize personal focus. Dwelling on financial issues can take one’s mind off of the job task at hand. The list reigns long and distinguished when identifying sources of personal distraction.

Individuals must find the strength to overcome these attention-taking distractions. Continual coaching and robust safety meetings serve as proactive actions that can guide individuals to success. While understandably important, personal distractions must be left outside the workplace to ensure safety for all.


While these human performance factors can seem challenging and even frightening, the positive news is that action can be taken to avoid them. The more difficult activity is identifying where they exist.

An absence of direction can be avoided by promoting detailed pre-job meetings. Educating all crew members involved in the job arms each with the knowledge they need to succeed. Defining processes and identifying contingencies are all proactive behaviors that enable success.

This proactive course of action taken before the job begins can relieve pressure felt in the field. Having all information readily available and, as a result, all materials needed can alleviate the pressure felt in running short and behind. Contingency planning helps to eliminate this likelihood.

The pre-job meeting is a great place to identify potential ability gaps. Explaining the process and asking scenario questions proves more than adequate in gauging each team member’s ability. If inadequacy is discovered, management still has the time to make a change to the team or provide the training needed to enable ability.

Providing a full explanation in a pre-job meeting identifies what is expected of each person assigned to the project. Potential distractions can be discussed at this point, but by remaining proactive with safety meetings and toolbox talks through the course of the project, individuals can be continually reminded to leave distractions at home.

Taking the time to work together from the planning stage through the execution stage provides employees the outlet to work together as a team. Through this team effort, greater results in safety can be had. Identifying and combating human performance factors as a whole only increases the chance of sequestering their ability to take root and negatively impact life.


Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 Nick@shalemag.com