How do you manage human error?

The reports of human error are coming in thick and fast. This year we have seen:


  • Millions of credit card details stolen due to a decision around anti-malware practices
  • Presentation of inappropriate images during children's TV causing widespread complaint
  • Private email addresses released to the general public by local government
  • Employees not being paid

Attempts to prevent or manage human error have not succeeded and cost businesses all manner of grief, not to mention those customers or end users also impacted by the error.

Human error is a fickle thing. For example, highly experienced employees making the simplest of mistakes one day causing all manner of havoc; or businesses having resourcing and workload issues due to attrition – running the risk of fatigue, overwork and low morale. Both these are typical of some of the human error related issues we hear.

How do you prevent or protect against this? There are a wide range of quality and risk management tools out there and it is not my place to criticise them. However, a lot of businesses fail to understand that human error is not just an issue of making a mistake and putting it right. Understanding the conditions leading up to the event takes a lot of know-how. The defence industry know this because they don't want their people killed in action. The aviation industry know this because they don't want their pilot's making silly mistakes with 400 paying customers sitting in the back seats. And even the medical industry is getting on board with how mistakes in theatre occur as a result of fatigue or overwork. All of these industries know the importance of having human error and reliability expertise to help them understand how people think, act and decide their next course of action to take.

So with that in mind, do you manage human error? Do you investigate any incidents? Not just those related to health and safety but also operational and back office errors? Do you find that the corrective actions always seem to be the same (e.g. training needs) – but the errors keep occurring? What do you do with the investigation data afterwards?

Investigations need to be robust and the findings and actions need to be analysed. It is hard to know what to analyse and what questions to ask, to ensure that you have a good chance of preventing similar human errors occurring in the future. Without having the foundation of knowing how humans react, think and behave in your business, how can you possibly prevent human error?

Concerning prevention, a colleague recently discussed the importance of lessons learnt databases. Unfortunately for some businesses, their employees don't know of its existence nor have the time to search and read it. Prevention can come in all shapes and sizes – from a simple case of awareness raising. Maybe something more specialist like training courses, through systems mapping to full on probability and reliability analyses. Yes, human behaviour can be turned into a bunch of probabilities too.

So with all that in mind, if you want to take control of human error consider using human error specialists to help out.

If you have any comments or would like to know more, please email us We would love to hear from you.​