Below is an article published in Skipper Magazine July/August 2013.
The question of human factors. By Karl Bridges
Even though I work in the field of human factors (also known as ergonomics) and have all the relevant qualifications, I know people know themselves better than I do; they know how they operate, what makes or breaks them, how hard they can work, what risks (if any) they are prepared to take and probably a fairly good idea of how the rest of the crew operates too. When it comes down to it, from their waking moment until the moment of sleep, people just get the job done their own way.
However, things don't always go to plan. It can be anything that throws that spanner in the works. It can be personal stuff like a recent argument, a bad night's sleep, some lunatic car driver on the way to work, or even a certain team not winning last night's match. It could be work related, like the company environment, the boss, a colleague, the equipment or the weather conditions.
There are so many moving parts that it is actually not that easy to do the same job, the same way every day and expect the same outcome.
Now let's think about a couple of facts:
- you want to make as much money as possible
- the company your work for want to make money too
- you both want to make money as easily as possible
There is nothing wrong with these basic principles. At the end of the day we all want food on the table for our families. But there are things that can really ruin the chances of making money – illness, losing your job, workplace accidents and not being as productive as you or your work mates originally planned.
So we have a basic idea of how/why we work and what can happen to mess our day up. This is where human factors comes in.
Human Factors is all about understanding how you and your workplace operate. Human Factors Specialists try to ensure you are given the tools and conditions to function safely and efficiently, as well as make as much money as possible. Human Factors Specialists train in human psychology, physiology, engineering, design and businesses, and they have a good idea of how people operate in different high risk environments. They also know what the potential mental and physical impacts that may arise as the result of someone in a large organisation or central government making a decision. How could anyone possibly know how it affects me? You may ask.
Does it surprise you to know that there are many organisations in the world that have made some very good and very bad decisions? Some companies have made some incredibly bad decisions that resulted in them going bankrupt within a year or even killing someone.
Another couple of facts worth thinking about
- the majority of people go to work to do a good job
- your employer knows you want to do a good job too.
Now it is fair to say that many companies have learnt the hard way – bad decisions and unsafe workplaces result in a lot of very angry employees or getting very bad news coverage. We have all heard in the news about Pike River and the accusations surrounding the directors that ran the mine. A lot of other companies have also been watching this and have taken the lessons learnt from this very seriously. Fishing companies recognise that 50% of costs associated with injuries are as a result of poor human factors related issues – of course if that money can be saved, it means more money into developing the industry, more money to catch fish and more money in your pockets
As a result, maritime organisations are looking at human factors professionals to help understand their workforce and the relationships that exist – good and bad – within their organisations so areas of concern can be addressed. Your employer is trying work out what makes you tick, what keeps you safe and what can be done to ensure their and your future. So don't be too surprised if you hear terms like human factors, ergonomics, work space design, and even sociotechnical systems (try saying that after one beer too many) bouncing around your workplace more often than normal. They are all geared towards keeping you safe, productive, happy and engaged to help improve the workplace.