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Human Error is not a Cause but an Effect

August 3, 2011

When faced with a human error problem, you may be tempted to ask ‘Why didn’t they watch out better? How could they not have noticed?’ You think you can solve your human error problem by telling people to be more careful, by reprimanding the miscreants, by issuing a new rule or procedure. These are all expressions of ‘The Bad Apple Theory’, where you believe your system is basically safe if it were not for those few unreliable people in it. This old view of human error is increasingly outdated and will lead you nowhere.

The new view, in contrast, understands that a human error problem is actually an organizational problem. It sees that human error is not a cause of failure, but the effect, or sympton, of deeper trouble. Finding a ‘human error’ by any other name, or by any other human, is only the beginning of your journey, not a convenient conclusion. The new view recognizes that systems are inherent trade-offs between safety and other pressures. People need to create safety through practice, at all levels of an organization.

Breaking new ground beyond its successful predecessor, “The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error” guides you through the traps and misconceptions of the old view. It explains how to avoid the hindsight bias, to zoom out from the people closest in time and place to the mishap, and resist the temptation of counterfactual reasoning and judgmental language. But it also helps you look forward. It suggests how to apply the new view in building your safety department, handling questions about accountability, and constructing meaningful countermeasures. It even helps you in getting your organization to adopt the new view and improve its learning from failure. So if you are faced by a human error problem, abandon the fallacy of a quick fix.

By the book on Amazon

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