19 - 22 October, 2020 | Toronto, Ontario

Human System Engineering: Human Factors, Procedures, and Safety Culture

By: Camille Peres

Camille, can you begin by telling us about your professional background and your current area of research at Texas A&M?

I have a PhD in Cognitive Psychology and have focused my efforts on Human Factors. Initially, I was looking at human-computer interaction, but I broadened my focus to include the interaction that people have with artefacts and tools at work.

I’ve been working with the energy and highrisk industries for quite some time. Initially, my work was more focused on the office domain and how different software designs may be contributing to injuries, particularly for geoscientists who interpret geological data to identify where hydrocarbons may be. These people were experiencing a lot of ergonomic injuries, which is how I was introduced into this industry.

Following that, I came to Texas A&M School of Public Health and began working more closely with the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Centre here. I realized that some of the methods and theories that I have developed and used in other domains could really benefit this industry by reducing the likelihood of process incidents. Often, the actual interaction that people have with the machine, tool or procedure wasn’t being sufficiently examined to ensure that it was welldesigned to support safe and efficient work. My research has focused on that over the last four or five years and I am now expanding that into how we can support emergency operations and management as well.

Traditionally, human interactions have not been examined as much as risk relating to mechanical failures. Why do you think there is now a growing awareness of the role of human factors in risk management?

Over the last 10-15 years, root cause analyses for incidents involving humans often found human error. The mind-set became how do we fix the human? That’s when a lot of the work around implementing safety culture, making sure that people got enough rest and etcetera became very prevalent. Without question this is needed, but sometimes the problem was not actually with the human; it was with the tools that the human was using. I think as the industry started implementing safety culture or fatigue management, and realized that those weren’t sufficient; they began to question why they were not seeing the expected change in process safety incidents.

That is one of the reasons that people are starting to examine this a little more fully, although it’s certainly nascent. Often, when I talk to people about Human Factors people still think of it as a list of issues associated with humans, as opposed to a scientific discipline that has methods and theories that can actually improve interactions. A colleague of mine refers to it as ‘human systems engineering’ to express that we are trying to engineer that interaction so that there is less likely to be a problem [...]

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