What are Human Factors and Non-Technical Skills?

“Human Factors refer to environmental, organisational and job factors, and human and individual characteristics, which influence behaviour at work in a way which can affect health & safety, performance and productivity”

The three interrelated aspects that must be considered


The Job







The Individual





Risk Perception


The Organisation




Work Patterns


  • The job: including areas such as the nature of the task, workload, the working environment, the design of displays and controls, and the role of procedures. Tasks should be designed in accordance with ergonomic principles to take account of both human limitations and strengths. This includes matching the job to the physical and the mental strengths and limitations of people. Mental aspects would include perceptual, attentional and decision making requirements.
  • The individual: including his/her competence, skills, personality, attitude, and risk perception. Individual characteristics influence behaviour in complex ways. Some characteristics such as personality are fixed; others such as skills and attitudes may be changed or enhanced.
  • The organisation: including work patterns, the culture of the workplace, resources, communications, leadership and so on. Such factors are often overlooked during the design of jobs but have a significant influence on individual and group behaviour.

In other words, Human Factors is concerned with what people are being asked to do (the task and its characteristics), who is doing it (the individual and their competence) and where they are working (the organisation and its attributes), all of which are influenced by the wider societal concern, both local and national.

Human Factors interventions will not be effective if they consider these aspects in isolation. The scope of what we mean by Human Factors includes organisational systems and is considerably broader than traditional views of Human Factors /ergonomics.

Though most frequently used to identify the multiple factors that may have led to accidents or incidents, Human Factors can also be used to identify opportunities for performance and productivity gains.

Please complete the contact form for a free, no obligation, consultation on the how we can support you to illuminate costly accidents and incidents or improve performance and productivity or call us at 08545 2600126.

What are Non-Technical Skills?

“Non-Technical Skills are the cognitive, social and personal resource skills that complement technical skills and contribute to safe and efficient task performance.”

The importance of non-technical skills is widely recognised and they feature within the Competency Frameworks of many organisations, including the National Health Service (NHS); oil, gas, and aviation Industries. Governing organisations, such as the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), advocate the inclusion of Non-technical skills in Competency Management.

For example, the RSSB defined the NTS skills for train drivers in the UK under 7 categories which encompassed 26 individual skills

NTS Category NTS Skills
1 Situational Awareness
  • Attention to detail
  • Overall awareness
  • Maintain concentration
  • Retain information (during shift)
  • Anticipation of risk
2 Conscientiousness
  • Systematic and thorough approach
  • Checking
  • Positive attitude towards rules and procedures
3 Communication
  • Listening (people not stimuli)
  • Clarity
  • Assertiveness
  • Sharing Infromation
4 Decision making and action
  • Effective decisions
  • Timely decisions
  • Diagnosing and solving problems
5 Cooperation and working with others
  • Considering others' needs
  • Supporting others
  • Treating others with respect
  • Dealing with conflict / aggressive behaviour
6 Workload management
  • Multitasking and selective attention
  • Prioritising
  • Calm under pressure
7 Self-management
  • Motivation
  • Confidence and initiative
  • Maintain develop skills and knowledge
  • Prepared and organised
Please complete the contact form for you would like to know more about how we can design your Human Factors and Non-Technical Skills Programmes or call us at 08545 2600126

The two key challenges to achieving sustained improvements in Personal Safety are:

  1. Enabling the individual to continually perceive and assess risks, especially by being fully aware of their current mental and physical state, and particularly the key 4 risk states identified by Higbee of rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency.
  2. Inculcating within the individual the imperative to take personal responsibility to manage and mitigate those states and thus the errors and risks associated with these states.

These challenges will be achieved through working with an individual to:

  1. Improve their perception of risk and in so doing raise their capability to assess risk.
  2. Ensure they take personal ownership to address risks they have identified.
  3. Increase their skills to manage and mitigate risk.
  4. Support each person in developing and applying their own Personalised Safety Plan.
Organisations have over a number of years developed tools, techniques and matrices for themselves and their staff to assess and evaluate risk. The drawback of such tools is their emphasis on the external risks of the environment and the hazard. They are therefore flawed.

The ultimate risk to Personal Safety is the compromised safe behaviour of the individual due to the individual’s physical or mental state.

Gary Higbee identifies 4 key risk states:

  1. Rushing
  2. Frustration
  3. Fatigue
  4. Complacency

Higbee’s research showed that one or more of these states where present in over 95% of accidents and incidents

These risk states then impact on performance and lead to people making critical errors in the following ways:

Area Impact
Visual Eyes not on task
Concentration Mind not on task
Kinaesthetic Losing Balance, traction, grip
Physical Location Situational Awareness / “Line of Fire” “Line of fire” is a military term that describes the path of a discharged missile or firearm. It’s the path an object will travel. In the rail workplace there are many objects and hazards that have potential to create line of fire exposure.

Impaired performance then results in errors and unexpected events such as near misses and incidents.

Complacency is worth separate consideration as it represents a particular risk to Personal Safety. Larry Wilson in his book quotes the following personal example:

“Years back we were over at the mother-in-law’s for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the huge turkey spread, and while we’re eating, it starts snowing. We start assessing whether we should drive home or stay the night – we look out the window at how much it’s snowing and judge it isn’t really that bad…. We check the Internet. Welook at the weather reports. We even turn on the radio to hear about road closures. We are basically making all kinds of assessments about the physical risk.

None of us – including me – until we’re at about the third hour of the drive home, and I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open – thought, “What is the risk of driving 3 hours after a big turkey dinner and falling asleep at the wheel?” We didn’t think about that at all.And yet people falling asleep at the wheel represents approximately 25% of the fatal car crashes in Canada and the United States.

But there’s a natural tendency for people to look solely  at the physical environment and physical hazards when they’re doing a risk assessment and totally neglect the essential question of  “What is my state of mind?” or “How complacent have I become with this activity?” These are rarely questions that people ask during assessments. And yet complacency is a major and minor contributing factorwith almost every accidental acute injury”

The following factors pose additional risks and will be covered in the Programme:

  1. Familiarity.
    When an individual is familiar i.e. regularly exposed to a hazard, it is common for them to assume they know a lot about that hazard. They are therefore liable to underestimate the presenting degree of risk.
  1. Voluntariness.
    When an individual ‘volunteers’ totake a risk i.e. they make a free choice to expose themselves to a known risk, they then usually underestimate the chances of being hurt.
  1. Distorted perception of risk.
    When accidents happen and receive attention there is a distorted and inaccurate perception that these accidents are more likely to happen. For example, there is a distorted perception that air travel is more risky than road travel, as aeroplane accidents receive high profile coverage.
  1. The underestimation of complexity.
    It is often impossible for an individual to become cognisant of technological risks because the true risk only reveals itself in a unique event, usually an accident.

Personal Ownership of Safety

The hallmark of a genuine organisational commitment to establishing and maintaining a culture of safety is when employees take personal ownership for the safe behaviour of themselves, their colleagues and customers.

Many employees make the dangerous assumption that accidents are something that happen to other people, and therefore that workplace safety is not their personal priority. They do not take personal ownership for safe behaviour.

The goal for any industry for which safety is critical is to reach ‘habit-strength’ for safe behaviour—defined as everyone demonstrating safe behaviour all of the time. This is not a ‘blue-sky’ goal – teams repeatedly demonstrate that not only can they reach this goal but also understand the importance of admitting when they haven’t.

Good examples are: Canadian Pacific Railway which reported a 46% decrease in human-caused incidents following the implementation of their Safety Programme; in military aviation, reports suggest that the occurrence of accidents has reduced by 81% following their introduction of Personal Safety and Human Factors training.

Skills to manage and mitigate risk.

Telling people not to make errors or trying to change human nature to eradicate error is not an effective approach to managing risk and Personal Safety.

Individuals must be given easily accessible and practical approaches to managing and mitigating risk in their personal behaviour.

This necessitates a systematic approach to addressing the key areas of all Personal Safety:

  • The individual’s personal capabilities and limitations in terms of doing, thinking and interacting.
  • The environment in which the individual works – both the physical environment and he organisational environment (e.g. culture, policies and procedures).
  • The actions individuals perform.
  • The resources required for the individual to do the job – these can be tangible such as equipment or intangible such as time.

From this approach we arrive at a powerful and meaningful set of tools and techniques unique to the individuals in their given role to maximise their Personal Safety.

Please complete the contact form for you would like to know more about how we can design your Human Factors and Non-Technical Skills Programmes or call us at 08545 2600126

Our Approach


Looking at Risk from Two Perspectives

The Workshops gets your people involved in looking at risk assessment using a framework based on two proven approaches:

  1. Human Factors
  2. Critical errors.

They will learn how to:

  • Monitor their level of rushing, frustration, fatigue, and complacency when undertaking  each and every task

and in so doing:

  • Raise their consciousness of changes in those states as being a risk, as much of a risk as changes in the environment or with the hazards.

Using this approach your people will learn how to assess risk from two perspectives:  from the outside-in and from the inside-out.

This will create a fundamental cognitive shift in how your people assess future risk. And that is so much more powerful than simply being able to rewrite safety procedures.

Management and Mitigation

The Workshop will complement delegates’ existing risk strategies with tools and techniques to manage and mitigate their self-risk.

The areas we will cover are:

  • Attitudinal.
  • Fatigue.
    Due to work or / and personal life demands.
  • Visual.
    Eyes not on task.
  • Concentration.
    Mind not on task.
  • Kinaesthetic
    Balance, traction, grip.
  • Physical location Situational Awareness/ “Line of Fire”
    Anticipating and dealing with objectsand hazards that have the potential to create a direct physical risk to personal safety.

” This training course was excellent. I have learnt many new techniques which have made a difference not only to help me to perform better in my job, but improving home-life as well. ”