Human factors

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines human factors as:

“Environmental, organisational and job factors, and human and individual characteristics, which influence behaviour at work in a way which can affect health and safety"’ (2019)

Human factors is concerned with all of the things other than an individual’s clinical skills and knowledge which contribute to the success or otherwise of the job in hand. There is clear evidence that teams and professions which consider human factors when designing their processes, training their teams and communicating with each other are safer, more effective and less stressful to work in.

Although they are sometimes called ‘soft skills’, human factors knowledge and skills are anything but soft. The term ‘human factors’ covers the nature of the task, the ergonomics of the workplace, processes and procedures and factors such as interruptions. It also encompasses decision-making requirements and the consequences of errors.

Individual characteristics also affect behaviour and some are more amenable to modification by the development of new skills and attitudes than others. Similarly, organisational culture, resource availability and communications processes and styles all have a significant impact on behaviour.

Human factors knowledge and skills underpin the performance of high-level teams in all organisations, in healthcare their impact on patient safety is significant. 

Human factors training is in the undergraduate and postgraduate medical curricula. To upskill members in this subject, the RCR has a human factors section on the e-learning hub containing useful resources such as:

We also provide links to high-quality external resources such as The human factor: learning from Gina’s story, a video produced by Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals.

Visit the e-learning hub