January 2014 Marine Log Magazine
Human Factors It’s the lIttle thIngs that matter By Chris Greenbank, Human Factors Specialist, BMT Reliability Consultants A systematic and structured approach to human system integration will help to minimize the opportunities for error E ditor’s note: The majority of marine accidents cite human error as a causal factor, yet human factors as a discipline is often overlooked and indeed treated with a level of cynicism within the marine engineering community. Part of the problem is that bland terms such as “human factors” and “ergonomics” actually hide the true value of the subject, and lead to a prevailing but erroneous belief that human factors is only about designing control panel layouts. A system should not just be viewed as the lines of code or the shiny hard metal and plastic. The human element is as much a part of the system as any other component. Perhaps another reason why engineers can often be sceptical about “human factors” is the counterintuitive need to focus on the little things. However, it’s a multitude of small things that can add up to an increased risk of human error— accidents rarely happen as a result of one particular action so it is important to pick up the things that could trip up human performance and deal with them as part of a systematic process. BMT Reliability Consultants’ Human Factors Specialist Chris Greenbank argues that in complex engineering programs, people are in fact, like any other part of a system—they have a certain specification, they have design parameters and environmental limits. He highlights how a structured and systematic systems engineering approach to Human System Integration (HSI) can help not only simplify the process and reduce risk, but also allow stakeholders to reduce total-life costs of their assets. Human error is cited as a causal factor in the majority of incidents and accidents across the marine sector. Between 2000 and 2005, an average of 18 ships collided, grounded, sank, caught fire or exploded every single day. This cost the insurance industry alone $4 million every day—of which around $2.7million of losses per day were attributed to human error. Over that period issues in which people played the dominant part cost the industry a staggering $10 billion in largely avoidable losses. Despite these statistics, the industry still faces an uphill struggle to 30 MARINE LOG January 2014 truly get to grips with the “human element.” Perhaps this is because the terminology is too vague. There is as much a point in referring to the “human element” as there is in referring to the ship as the engineering element—neither are specific enough to allow the area to be considered in enough detail and be meaningful. Engineering is about precision. Unless you manage your engineering program in a very structured and systematic way, then it’s hard to see how you can succeed. The integration of the human into a system should be considered in exactly the same way, rather than the scattergun approach which remains common today. Considering human factors in a systematic way improves safety and performance and drives down the total program life cost. After all, human behavior is a key part of almost any system, and is at the center of triumphs—and most disasters. Considering the human element systematically is therefore essential, but it also makes business sense, too. Accidents of any type are expensive, and anything that drives performance also has the potential to drive competitive advantage. Although there is a cost to considering human system integration properly and early enough in the acquisition process, that cost is paid only once, and there is mounting evidence that HSI programs deliver an astonishingly good return on investment with the cost being recouped by savings at all phases of design and indeed the total life cost of the vessel. Where an operator needs to compensate for poor design that cost is paid every day—and even then there is a degree of uncertainty about whether the correct response will be made when it matters. Studies from the air traffic control industry indicate that getting the design right to start with saves up to 100 times the cost of fixing problems later. The Human System Integration process (HSI or Human Factors Integration (HFI) in the UK), is a structured process common in military and other safety critical industries that systematically allows the human element to be managed from early design through the total life of the system.