Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Accident risk up due to stress

Article in Gulf News by Carol Spiers on 17 June 2009.

The claim is that lots of industrial accidents which involved human error had more to do with stress and less to do with personal failings. Apparently this is confirmed by a recent report by one the UK's largest insurance groups which concluded that the risk of accidents at work is increasing as stress-levels are driven up by the effects of the recession.

Fatigue is part of this, but Spiers places "more significance on the psychological factors - disorientation and fear , which cannot accurately be measured." She summarises two accidents:

1. A methanol fire occurred because a technician left a tap on a drum open whilst it was filling. An investigation tried to ascertain the cause of this "inexplicable and serious breach of the factory safety rules." They concluded that because the technician had problems paying his mortgage he had not been sleeping well and had been suffering high levels of stress. Apparently "It was clear that the accident was a result of human error that could have been avoided had the man sought help from his employer and taken medical advice."

2. An "over-stressed accountant" duplicated the keying-in routine when making a large electronic payment to a supplier, paying them twice.

Whilst I agree stress can make a significant contribution to human error, both examples quoted seem to be more related to poor design. It seems to me that someone has developed a theory and is looking for evidence to back it up, rather than any reliable evaluation of the data available.

Andy Brazier

No comments: