“HELP – I’m out of RAM”

| February 12, 2010

OHSAS 18001 requires that your organization’s procedure for hazard identification and risk assessment take into account “human behavior, capabilities and other human factors”. 

Many organizations partially address this requirement by establishing an ergonomics program in order to address physical human factors.  Only a few organizations explicitly address mental human factors as a part of their hazard identification and risk assessment. 

Yet, mental human factors are very real and can be just as important as physical human factors.  In some cases, they are even more important. 

For example, when one is driving a car, factors that reduce mental acuity – such as talking on a cell phone – are typically much more significant than physical capabilities.  The dangers of being distracted while driving is important enough that the first Distracted Driving Summit was held last fall and the U.S. Department of Transportation has set up a Distracted Driving website

The human brain has been described as having “a very large hard drive but limited random access memory (RAM).”  As demonstrated by our proficiency at trivia games and success in answering questions on quiz shows like Jeopardy, the human brain is capable of storing a great deal of information.  On the other hand, studies show that most people have difficulty remembering more than 7±2 items at a time in short term memory.  Our mental processes were developed for a very different environment than we find ourselves in today.  In the past, our modes of information delivery moved much, much slower with significantly fewer “inputs per minute.”  

Yet we design work environments as if this mental limitation does not exist. 

We expect individuals to work at full capacity in environments with multiple stimuli.  We set up equipment lines so they are efficient for the machines but terrible environments for the people who have to work there.  We design work processes and work shifts as if mental limitations do not exist.

Unfortunately, when accidents do occur – which they inevitably will – we blame the individuals involved and tell them how “bad” they are. 

I’m not sure if this is silly, sad or tragic but it sure is NOT a sound management system approach.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2010)


Category: OHSMS Implementation, Risk Management

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