Reviews
Pedro Miguel Ferreira Martins Arezes and Paulo Victor Rodrigues de Carvalho, Taylor & Francis Group (www.crcpress.com)

Ergonomics and Human Factors in Safety Management

This is a series of papers drawn from two international human factors conferences. Since “ergonomics” potentially includes any interaction between people and their working environment, and “human factors” is as broad, the potential scope is vast, and that’s reflected in the papers. There are more than 50 contributors, most of them academics. 

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The papers are grouped into three main sections: occupation (sic) safety, safety and human factors in training and simulation and models, and other topics. They range from the strategic (regulatory, organisational and operational issues in road construction safety) to the specific (upper limb repetitive strain injury and housework). The excellent prefaces that summarise each paper are useful, since this is a work you would choose to dip into for topics of special interest.

It is well edited, beautifully produced and packed with diagrams and photos. It is also a reminder of the importance of human factors, and that there’s more to ergonomics than making controls intuitive or setting a work surface at the correct height.

But, though some of the topics grabbed my attention (can you predict when drivers will become so drowsy that they lose control of their vehicles?), many of the papers disappoint with the blandness of their conclusions. For example, the chapter about matrix-based risk assessment takes 25 pages to conclude that different people rate risks differently but often find severity easier to rate than likelihood. And there are other self-evident findings, researched in painstaking detail and backed up by some heavy maths. People cut corners because of production pressures; workplaces with high safety climate scores tend to be safer than those with low ones; and the most common mistake made by electrical control room operators – who were given a bonus for clearing faults within three minutes – was not to investigate the failure before taking remedial action.

No doubt there are some important details that lie behind these findings. But for a non-human factors specialist, it’s hard not to think these researchers have devoted effort to discovering things that we already know. To take the electrical example, the operators face a dilemma: depriving people of their power supply could cause massive problems but restoring the supply in a few minutes without a full system check could be hazardous, especially to anyone standing near the equipment when the power comes back on. In such cases, how do you train, motivate and incentivise workers to do what is right?

Overall, this is a major collection of international human factors research but, sadly, much of it begs the question: so what?

Pedro Miguel Ferreira Martins Arezes and Paulo Victor Rodrigues de Carvalho | Taylor & Francis Group (www.crcpress.com) | hardback | ebook available 

 

Paul Smith’s career spans enforcement, consultancy and the power industry. A former Health and Safety Executive inspector, he’s now a specialist writer on safety and health topics.

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