In this 40-minute video, ‘Introduction to Human Factors’, I am very pleased to welcome Peter Benda to The Safety Artisan.
Peter is a colleague and Human Factors specialist, who has 23 years’ experience in applying Human Factors to large projects in all kinds of domains. In this session we look at some fundamentals: what does Human Factors engineering aim to achieve? Why do it? And what sort of tools and techniques are useful?
This is The Safety Artisan, so we also discuss some real-world examples of how erroneous human actions can contribute to accidents. (See this post for a fuller example of that.) And, of course, how Human Factors discipline can help to prevent them.
- Introducing Peter;
- The Joint Optimization Of Human-Machine Systems;
- So why do it (HF)?
- Introduction to Human Factors;
- Definitions of Human Factors;
- The Long Arm of Human Factors;
- What is Human Factors Integration? and
- More HF sessions to come…
Introduction to Human Factors: Transcript
Simon: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Safety Artisan: Home of Safety Engineering Training. I’m Simon and I’m your host, as always. But today we are going to be joined by a guest, a Human Factors specialist, a colleague, and a friend of mine called Peter Benda. Now, Peter started as one of us, an ordinary engineer, but unusually, perhaps for an engineer, he decided he didn’t like engineering without people in it. He liked the social aspects and the human aspects and so he began to specialize in that area. And today, after twenty-three years in the business, and first degree and a master’s degree in engineering with a Human Factors speciality. He’s going to join us and share his expertise with us.
So that’s how you got into it then, Peter. For those of us who aren’t really familiar with Human Factors, how would you describe it to a beginner?
Peter: Well, I would say it’s The Joint Optimization Of Human-Machine Systems. So it’s really focusing on designing systems, perhaps help holistically would be a term that could be used, where we’re looking at optimizing the human element as well as the machine element. And the interaction between the two. So that’s really the key to Human Factors. And, of course, there are many dimensions from there; environmental, organizational, job factors, human and individual characteristics. All of these influence behaviour at work and health and safety. Another way to think about it is the application of scientific information concerning humans to the design of systems. Systems are for human use, which I think most systems are.
Simon: Indeed. Otherwise, why would humans build them?
Peter: That’s right. Generally speaking, sure.
Simon: So, given that this is a thing that people do then. Perhaps we’re not so good at including the human unless we think about it specifically?
Peter: I think that’s fairly accurate. I would say that if you look across industries, and industries are perhaps better at integrating Human Factors, considerations or Human Factors into the design lifecycle, that they have had to do so because of the accidents that have occurred in the past. You could probably say this about safety engineering as well, right?
Simon: And this is true, yes.
Peter: In a sense, you do it because you have to because the implications of not doing it are quite significant. However, I would say the upshot, if you look at some of the evidence –and you see this also across software design and non-safety critical industries or systems –that taking into account human considerations early in the design process typically ends up in better system performance. You might have more usable systems, for example. Apple would be an example of a company that puts a lot of focus into human-computer interaction and optimizing the interface between humans and their technologies and ensuring that you can walk up and use it fairly easily. Now as time goes on, one can argue how out how well Apple is doing something like that, but they were certainly very well known for taking that approach.
Simon: And reaped the benefits accordingly and became, I think, they were the world’s number one company for a while.
Peter: That’s right. That’s right.
Simon: So, thinking about the, “So why do it?” What is one of the benefits of doing Human Factors well?
Peter: Multiple benefits, I would say. Clearly, safety and safety-critical systems, like health and safety; Performance, so system performance; Efficiency and so forth. Job satisfaction and that has repercussions that go back into, broadly speaking, that society. If you have meaningful work that has other repercussions and that’s sort of the angle I originally came into all of this from. But, you know, you could be looking at just the safety and efficiency aspects.
Simon: You mentioned meaningful work: is that what attracted you to it?
Peter: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. Yes, like I said I had a keen interest in the sociology of work and looking at work organization. Then, for my master’s degree, I looked at lean production, which is the Toyota approach to producing vehicles. I looked at multiskilled teams and multiskilling and job satisfaction. Then looking at stress indicators and so forth versus mass production systems. So that’s really the angle I came into this. If you look at it, mass production lines where a person is doing the same job over and over, it’s quite repetitive and very narrow, versus the more Japanese style lean production. There are certainly repercussions, both socially and individually, from a psychological health perspective.
Simon: So, you get happy workers and more contented workers –
Peter: – And better quality, yeah.
Simon: And again, you mentioned Toyota. Another giant company that’s presumably grown partly through applying these principles.
Peter: Well, they’re famous for quality, aren’t they? Famous for reliable, high-quality cars that go on forever. I mean, when I moved from Canada to Australia, Toyota has a very, very strong history here with the Land Cruiser, and the high locks, and so forth.
Simon: All very well-known brands here. Household names.
Peter: Are known to be bombproof and can outlast any other vehicle. And the lean production system certainly has, I would say, quite a bit of responsibility for the production of these high-quality cars.
Simon: So, we’ve spoken about how you got into it and “What is it?” and “Why do it?” I suppose, as we’ve said, what it is in very general terms but I suspect a lot of people listening will want to know to define what it is, what Human Factors is, based on doing it. On how you do it. It’s a long, long time since I did my Human Factors training. Just one module in my masters, so could you take me through what Human Factors involves these days in broad terms.
Peter: Sure, I actually have a few slides that might be useful –
Simon: – Oh terrific! –
Peter: – maybe I should present that. So, let me see how well I can share this. And of course, sometimes the problem is I’ll make sure that – maybe screen two is the best way to share it. Can you see that OK?
Simon: Yeah, that’s great…