Human Error and Root Cause Analysis

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What is Human Error?

Humans are prone to errors. As a result, organizations are vulnerable to various types of errors. The most common human error is due to mistakes made by people, which can be caused by poor planning, lack of knowledge, inadequate training, and so forth. These errors can lead to financial losses and reputation damage.

KEY Takeaways

  • Poorly designed systems create opportunities for human errors. 
  • Human errors are inevitable. But, you can minimize them through proper training and planning.
  • When you find out that someone committed a human error, you need to investigate further to find the root cause.

Examples of Human Error

The following are some examples of human errors:

1) A person who has been hired for a particular job but does not have the required skills or experience may perform poorly in that position. This results in low productivity and quality.

2) An employee may make an honest mistake while performing his duties. For example, he may accidentally delete important files on a computer hard drive.

3) An employee may deliberately falsify data on a report or other document.

4) A customer service representative may give incorrect information to a caller.

5) A doctor may prescribe a harmful drug rather than helpful.

6) A worker may use unsafe equipment.

7) A pilot may fly into restricted airspace.

What is a Root Cause?

A root cause analysis is a systematic process used to identify the causes of a problem. It involves identifying all contributing factors, including those outside the organization. This helps in understanding what went wrong, why it happened, and what needs to change to prevent it from happening again.

An example of a root cause analysis would be investigating a fire at your factory. You will want to know how this fire started, what materials were involved, and how they got there. Once you have identified the root cause, you must then determine if any changes need to be made to prevent future occurrences.

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  • Human Error is NEVER the Root Cause

    If, as part of the root cause analysis, you conclude that this mistake was because of human error, that means you have not done an excellent job. You need to go deeper into the problem.

    Techniques like five whys can help you with that. If the root cause was identified as a human error, you must ask "why." Why this has happened?: (See: Five Whys Analysis)

    • Was it because the person was not trained?
    • Was it because the process was not clearly described?
    • Or was it because the person did it deliberately?

    Each of these answers will take you to a much deeper root cause.

    It is easy to blame human error when the real reason lies somewhere else. So, before blaming human error, we should first try to understand the root cause.

    How Can We Prevent Human Errors?

    There are many ways to prevent human errors. Some of them include:

    1) Ensure that employees receive adequate training.

    2) Provide clear instructions to your employees.

    3) Make sure that your staff understands their responsibilities.

    4) Establish a culture where everyone feels safe and secure.

    5) Use technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

    6) Have a system in place that allows for accountability.

    7) Maintain good communication among team members.

    8) Identify potential problems before they happen.

    9) Take advantage of new technologies.

    10) Take disciplinary action if the error was made deliberately/intentionally.

    Random thoughts on human error

    Here I have listed some random thoughts related to human error based on my personal and professional experiences.

    1. The most common causes of human errors include lack of training, poor communication, fatigue, stress, distractions, and faulty equipment.

    2. Most errors occur during routine tasks (when the operator is overconfident) or while performing complex ones (when the operator does not have the necessary skills and tools).

    3. Proper planning and preparation can prevent more than half of all human errors.

    4. Poorly designed systems create more opportunities for human errors.

    5. People who are overconfident about their abilities tend to underestimate the risks associated with their actions.

    6. People often fail to recognize their limitations.

    7. People sometimes rely too heavily on intuition instead of logic.

    8. People often become distracted by irrelevant information. Make sure the processes and procedures are to the point.

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