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Human factors

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Human Factors is an umbrella term for several areas of research that include human performance, technology design, and human-computer interaction. Human Factors Engineering (HFE) is the application of human factors knowledge to the design and construction of equipment, products, work systems, management systems, and tasks. There are four phases of the engineering project life-cycle which typically require HFE. These are Select, Define, Execute, and Operate. Different HFE activities are associated with different phases of the project life-cycle. The HFE activity conducted in the Select phase of a project life cycle include

  • HFE screening
  • Produce HFIP
  • Assign HFE roles and responsibilities
  • Set up a mechanism for managing HFE issues.

In the Define phase of the project, the HFE activities include

  • Review standards
  • Develop HFE design specification
  • Deliver HFE training awareness
  • Carry out HFE design review and validation activities
  • Provide HF input to hazard identification/risk management activities
  • Track and manage close-out of HFE issues

The deepwater horizon incident in 2010 changed the perspective of human factors and safety in the oil and gas sector. As per the US Chemical Safety Board investigation report Volume 3, the main human factors that contributed to the disaster were organizational policy, fatigue, distraction, multiple activities, lack of written work instructions, and confirmation bias. In July 2012, SPE held a two-day summit on human factors to create a common understanding of the strategic challenges for the oil and gas E&P industry, to identify what is known and unknown in the field, and to explore possible actions to accomplish the needed change indicated by the U.S. National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling report. Attendees created a technical report based on the discussions and conclusions at the summit as a guideline on the risks of the human factor in E&P operations and what can be done to reduce those risks and increase safety.


Members of the summit decided that the industry must move to an organizational culture in which process safety is as well managed as personal safety. The committee drew the following conclusions and included them in the The Human Factor: Process Safety and Culture technical report:


Leadership is critical to a process safety culture. The decisions, actions, and statements made by leaders, the reward and incentive structures that leaders implement, the way leaders behave and interact with people throughout the organization, and the decisions and actions they take to balance safety against commercial imperatives, directly determine the attitude to safety within an organization.


More attention needs to be given to the experiences of other industries (like aviation, nuclear, and chemical processing) and how the solutions they developed to limit human factors risk can be adapted for the E&P industry.

Regulatory approaches

The common regulatory approach of rules and audits for compliance provides no incentives for organizations to go beyond minimal compliance. Regulatory approaches should encourage organizations to continually assess safety performance and to be chronically dissatisfied.


The extensive use of contractor services and partnerships adds a critical industry-wide component to addressing process safety in the E&P industry. This creates a need for a common definition of competency requirements, particularly in nontechnical skills, and common terminology in operational integrity/process safety.


Operational Control of Work offers a framework for formalizing workflows, communication protocols, decision-making rights, competencies and training programs that can address challenges inherent in remote, distributed teams.


The extensive research into the psychology of how irrationality and cognitive bias lead to poor risk assessment and decision-making and the practical solutions to counter these biases should be used more extensively to improve training of people involved in safety-critical operations in the E&P industry.


Integrating human factors into IT development is critical. Significant potential exists for human-factors-optimized IT systems to make a larger contribution to eliminating or containing the chains of human errors that are usually behind major process control events.

Read the entire contents of The Human Factor: Process Safety and Culture.

Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

Chaudhury, G. and Whooley, A. 2014. Art, Science, and Engineering of Managing Offshore Field Development Economics and Risks. Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, 5-8 May. OTC-25344-MS.

Committee, T. R. 2014. The Human Factor: Process Safety and Culture. Society of Petroleum Engineers. SPE-170575-TR.

Poblete, B. R., Parker, C. W., Ranasinghe, S., and Gandhi, M. 2014. Human Factors in Hazard Analysis. Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference. Houston, 5-8 May. OTC-25280-MS.

Pray, J., McSweeney, K. P., & Parker, C. W. 2014. Implementing Human Factors Engineering in Offshore Installation Design. Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference. 5-8 May.

Online multimedia

SPE. 2014. The Human Factor: Process Safety and Culture. Webinar.

Skompski, Ed. 2013. The Impact of Administrative Controls and Management Enforcement on Human Performance.

Thorogood, John. 2014. Human Factors in Drilling: Are there practical tools for use at the wellsite?

External links

Human Factors Are Integral to Project Design by Adam Wilson

DiFiore, Amanda. 2015 "Human Factors in Automation." : Web Events. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Grossweiler, Philip. 2015.  "Human Factors / Crew Resource Management: Perspectives for Inputs to Risk Management Framework." Web Events. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

See also