Just How Important is Human Error?

Over the past few years I have spent a lot of time pondering and working in areas related to Human Error. But just how important is it? The vast majority of people in asset management and reliability seem to think of it as important, but not vital. Most people I talk to have the belief that it is only important in safety related industries, and is generally restricted to a few people only. I disagree... strongly. My own studies, which are personal and private of course, tell me that around 25% of failures are related to Human Error. But I am not alone, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that ‘’Human Error is something that we (as a managerial discipline) need to be a lot more proactive about. Have a look at these statistics: Safety: Thoughts from industry leaders

  • “The actions of people account for 96% of all injuries” – (DuPont)
  • “80-90% of accidents are due to human error” (Heinrich et al, 1980)
  • “50-90% of accidents according to statistics are due to human failings” – Kletz (1990)
  • Longford Australia, Japan Airlines Flight 123, Piper Alpha, Bhopal, Clapham Junction, Hatfield, Potters Bar, American Airlines flight 191, etcetera…
But its not all about safety...
  • 20% of outages in process related industries (Hydrocarbon processing, a Gulf Publishing company, 2003)
  • General Aviation US Navy – Forecast a conservative, 10%, reduction in human error would provide a reduction of $14.1 million in 1 year, and up to $57.7 million over 5 years.
  • 56% of forced outages in coal fired power stations occur less than a week after maintenance is performed
  • More than half the performance problems in the US and Japanese nuclear industries were associated with maintenance, calibration and testing. Only 16% occurred under normal conditions
  • Maintenance activities contributed to more than 80% of inflight engine shutdowns (Boeing)
So we need to start by accepting that a lot of us have it wrong. Human factors are a driving issue in asset maintenance and one that hits profitability as well as safety and environmental issues. This stands to reason once you sit and think about it.
  • Assets are getting more complex, and more of them are in use in our daily lives
  • Asset maintenance is overwhelmingly becoming predictive in nature
  • QA, design and manufacturing issues are also subsiding greatly as causes of asset failure.
So of all the potential failrues that are left, human factors takes up a significant percentage of these. This is one time where innovation doesn't come out of a shrink wrapped CD or off the internet. Its about the basics like skills, awareness, communication, capabilities and so on. A fascinating area of study and one that I have been working in a lot lately. If you get time try to read ‘Managing Maintenance Error’, by Reason and Hobbs. This is a brilliant book on the subject and one that every discriminating maintenance manager should have with them I reckon.