Human failure types

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  • Published: May 2008
  • Edition: 1st
  • Status: Current

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It is not enough to attribute human failure to 'human error'.  In reality there are different types of human failure 'unintentional failures' (errors) and 'intentional failures' (non-compliances/violations).  Within these two broad types there are a variety of sub-groups of errors and non-compliances which have different causes and require different ways of being addressed. 

This resource gives an overview of human failure types, and provides a taxonomy with supporting information to help you to better understand the various types of human failure, and the factors that make each type more likely to occur, as well as remedies to prevent their occurrence.

It uses a taxonomy flowchart to illustrate human failure types and causes.  It can be used in conjunction with the Hearts and Minds tools Managing rule breaking, Risk assessment matrix and Improving supervision, but is also a good general resource when exploring and reacting to human failure.  It is illustrated with examples and includes a simple knowledge test.

It is designed to be of assistance when exploring the possibility of human failure in risk assessments and in identifying barriers to reduce risks.  It is also designed to be of assistance when exploring human failure causation in incident and accident investigations (see EI Guidance on investigating and analysing human and organisational factors aspects of incidents and accidents), and to help manage rule breaking and identify relevant remedies to address the particular human failure type.

This resource was developed by Patrick Hudson, and commissioned by the EI Human and Organisational Factors Working Group.

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