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Incident Prevention Magazine

Mark J. Steinhofer, CHST, CSP, CUSP

Don’t Blame People for Human Error

The first lineman scaled the pole and tried to perform the task on the conductor. After a minute or so, the supervisor yelled, “You’re doing that wrong!,” told the lineman he was incompetent and sent a second lineman up the pole in his place. The second lineman started the task only to hear, “That’s not how it’s done!” before returning to the ground. A third lineman took a deep breath before he climbed. He looked over the job and started to work. Soon the supervisor bellowed, “What’s wrong with you? That won’t work!”

This scenario illustrates the way the utility construction industry traditionally has dealt with human error: by blaming people instead of flawed processes. The supervisor assumed the linemen were making mistakes instead of reasoning that there must have been a fundamental flaw in the task or their training.

What is Human Error?
We define human error as undesirable human decisions or behaviors that reduce or may reduce safety and effectiveness. Errors typically fall into one of four categories:

  1. Mistakes result from ignorance of the correct task or the correct way to perform it.
  2. Mismatches occur when tasks are beyond the physical or mental ability of the person asked to perform them.
  3. Noncompliance or violations happen because someone decided not to carry out a task or did not carry it out in the way instructed or expected.
  4. Slips and lapses result from forgetfulness, habit, fatigue or similar causes.

Blaming individuals is the easy way out, and it doesn’t prevent errors. For one thing, sometimes the best people make the worst mistakes. And second, mishaps are anything but random; they tend to fall into recurring patterns.

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Recent Comments
Guest — Max Fuentes
Where did you come up with your scenario about 3 linemen being unable to perform their jobs and a supervisor yelling at all three ... Read More
Thursday, 27 July 2017 09:11
Guest — Jim Vaughn, CUSP - iPi SME
Thank you for your response Max. I hope that a couple clarifications will give you an opportunity to better understand what you ha... Read More
Friday, 28 July 2017 09:14
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