The “Human Element” in Risk Assessment

| August 13, 2009

The hazard identification/risk assessment section of OHSAS 18001 (Section 4.3.1) requires that your procedures take into account “human behavior, capabilities and other human factors.”

The need for considering “the human element” was brought home to me by the recent flurry of articles and news reports covering the hazards associated with using cell phones when driving.  According to these reports, a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as drinking alcohol and driving.

These news reports, and similar ones on the use of tanning beds by teenagers and the lack of hand hygiene in health care, lead me to wonder:

  • Why do people use cell phones while they are driving?
  • Why do teenagers pay to use tanning beds?
  • Why do doctors treat patients without washing their hands?

Why do individuals make such seemingly “irrational” decisions?

I’m not sure I have a satisfactory answer to this question; however, asking this question is an important part of your OH&S management system.

OH&S hazards are not limited to faulty equipment and hazardous materials, they also involve the human element – how people behave and WHY they behave as they do.

OHSAS 18002 suggests that when conducting your hazard identification, you should consider –

  • The nature of the job (workplace layout, operator information, work load, physical work, work patterns)
  • The environment (heat, lighting, noise, air quality)
  • Human behavior (temperament, habits, attitudes)
  • Psychological capabilities (cognition, attention)
  • Physiological capabilities (biomechanical, anthropometrics/physical variation of people)

Considering these factors – and their interactions – can help you determine why individuals are behaving as they are and what OH&S hazards are being created as a result.  Only if you understand “the human element” will you have the information you need for determining the appropriate OH&S controls to put in place.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2009)

Category: Risk Management

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