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Since 1982, working with some of the world's best organisations to avoid human error

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About Error
Avoid Error

Only people who don't know what they're doing, or are careless make errors. Right? Well, except me, of course, I was just unlucky.

If only it were true! We could abolish human error by simply providing better training, more rules and exams, more incentives (for people like us) or punishment (for everyone else).

Obviously, if people haven't been trained and assessed properly, there's every chance that they will get things wrong, from time-to-time, and it certainly helps if they are trying their best to get things right. However, even when they are, some sorts of errors can happen, in spite of their best efforts.

So much of what we do is virtually automatic. We don't have to think consciously about how to brush our teeth or get dressed. We've done these kinds of things so many times that they are 'second nature'. In fact, if we think too hard about them, they become more difficult to do. Lots of everyday tasks at work are like that as well, and the term 'skill' is often used to describe them. Errors of skilled behaviour happen when our automatic actions and reactions are nudged off-course and we don't notice.

Trying harder or extra training does little to reduce errors of skilled behaviour. What does work is making it less likely that we will be nudged, or making it more noticeable if we are. In practice, this usually means making improvements to ways in which we work. Getting smarter! Changes needed are often small, but work best when they take full account of natural human characteristics and limitations.

Even routine work that is not entirely automatic can usually be best protected from error by re-design, or fine-tuning. Focusing on making ways of working more robust, rather than trying to improve individuals is more likely to succeed, and provides a better return on investment.



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