only human

human factors and psychology stuff for anyone interested in making things easier, safer and more enjoyable to use

Monday, September 26, 2005 

Climate of fear makes human error reassuring

September 12th Los Angeles was the latest high profile case of human error. According to the various news reports, a major power outage lasted several hours leaving people trapped in elevators and motorists gridlocked. Reports suggest that the cause of the afternoon blackout in LA was due to utility workers cutting several cables by mistake.

Many residents were initially concerned that something more sinister was responsible especially as the city had received warnings of possible terrorist action the day before, on the anniversary of 9/11.

In the days of terrorist threats and major natural disasters the presence of human error can be of some comfort. The heightened state of fear in the US and the UK leads people to panic when things go wrong, but when we find that the cause is simply down to a mistake, fear is replaced by a sense of relief. The fact that ‘we are only human’ means that we are all used to making mistakes and tend to accept that they are somewhat inevitable. I wonder however that the current climate of fear may make us more accepting of human error, that error becomes an expected flaw and therefore is less important to minimize it. The transport industry (especially air & rail), the armed forces, the nuclear and oil industries will hopefully still strive to reach safety goals in minimizing human error in operation, however I wonder if everyone else in society will become more complacent and perhaps not so interested in avoiding error themselves.

Article which stimulated these thoughts

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