ASSP Talks Human Error: Key Trends in Human Performance Presentations

A handful of speakers talked about human error during the three days of ASSP Safety 2020 Virtual. Here are some of the trends and key takeaways.

It’s easy to assume that a workplace injury or death was caused by human error, and figure that it was by the worker’s fault and not that of the company or system. But how do you measure human error and use cognitive science when it comes to decision-making? Thankfully, two presentations from this year’s virtual ASSP Safety 2020 helped me better understand human errors in the workplace.

On Tuesday, June 24 I listened to Bill Sims’s presentation titled “Green Beans, Ice Cream & HOP: Looking for Human Error,” and on June 25, I listened to John Barlew’s presentation titled “Skewed: Understanding the Mental Models Leading to Error.” These presentations had different ways of discussing human error and worker decision-making. However, their similarities spoke volumes.

Barlew opened with an interesting fact: frequencies of non-fatal injuries are decreasing in the workplace, but fatal injuries are plateauing and not decreasing. It is clear that we need to shift our thinking and learn more about human cognition and errors.

How do we do this? Well, Sims used a quote from the movie Sully: “You want to talk about human error? Make it human.”

Both Sims and Barlew explained that making human error “human” means looking at the external factors that impact a situation gone-wrong. If a worker is injured, employers need to consider other factors like stress, emotional tagging, memory queues, fatigue, positive reinforcement and more. Managers and employers need to focus less on teaching workers how to do their jobs (technically) and more on helping them with external emotional and cultural factors.

Examples of helping workers be safer on the job, and reducing the risk of workplace injury, include the following:

  • incorporating more positive reinforcement in a workplace that reinforce positive experience
  • helping workers manage stress and fatigue
  • promoting open sharing of experience and feedback

Sims and Barlew go in-depth in their presentation on how the brain works in real-time, high stress situations and how company culture affects safety. However, both emphasized that human error at a workplace injury or fatality are most likely because of other factors from leaderships, colleagues, safety culture and that individuals’ previous behavior.

The Safety 2020 virtual show was definitely unlike other years, but ASSP continued to provide helpful information for industry professionals. It is clear that the safety industry is as much about a worker’s physical safety as it is about his or her emotional and mental safety, too.

About the Author

Amanda Smiley is an Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety Magazine and 1105 Media.

Product Showcase

  • Magellan X Pte Ltd

    Hesitate No More with SOL-X Connected Worker Health & Safety Solution

    According to the National Safety Council, work-related medically consulted injuries total 4.26 million in 2021 in USA alone. SOL-X solution prevents “human factors” safety issues by anticipating incidents and improving compliance workflows. Leverages digital technologies (IIoT, AI and analytics) to predict patterns from occurring and make informed decisions. Control Of Work - gets rid of tedious paperwork and experience digital workflows. Crew Protect - maximises safety and situational awareness with health trackers and situational indicators. Award-winning Intrinsically Safe SmartWatch – innovative features that enable near real-time visibility and connected well-being. Works well with major connectivity protocols like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Long-Range Bluetooth! 3

  • The MGC Simple Plus

    The MGC Simple Plus

    The MGC Simple Plus is a simple-to-use, portable multi-gas detector that runs continuously for three years without needing to be recharged or routinely calibrated after its initial charge and calibration during manufacturing. The detector reliably tests a worksite’s atmosphere for hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, oxygen and combustible gases (LEL). Additionally, it is durable enough to withstand the harshest treatment and environments, which is why it has an IP 68 rating. The MGC Simple Plus is also compatible with a variety of accessories, such as Gas Clip Technologies’ new GCT External Pump. Visit for more information. 3

  • Make selection & use of SRLs simpler with the new V-SHOCK line

    Make selection & use of SRLs simpler with the new V-SHOCK line

    The new MSA V-SHOCK EDGE Cable SRLs and Web PFLs for Leading Edge use are designed for simplicity and hassle-free safety. V-SHOCK EDGE solutions help make PPE selection on the jobsite quick and easy with color-coded housings, clear icons on labels, and clearance charts in the label pack. 3