What are ‘job factors’ and how do they affect health and safety?

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In the last article, we looked at organisational factors and how they can impact health and safety. In this article, we’ll turn the focus onto job factors.

Successful management of human factors and the control of risk involves the development of systems designed to take proper account of human capabilities and fallibilities. Using techniques like job safety analysis, jobs should be designed in accordance with ergonomic principles so as to take into account limitations in human performance. Examples of job factors are:

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is about ensuring a good ‘match’ between people and the things they use. People vary enormously in many ways including height and weight; physical strength ability to handle information. Ergonomics uses information about human abilities, attributes and limitations to ensure that work, work equipment and workplaces allow for such variations.

Tasks should be designed in accordance with ergonomic principles to take into account limitations and strengths in human performance. Matching the job to the person will ensure that they are not overloaded and are able to make an effective contribution to the business results. Mismatches between an individual’s capability and the job requirements create the potential for human error. Matches/mismatches may be physical or mental. The physical match includes the design of the whole workplace and working environment. Mental match involves the individual’s information and decision-making requirements, as well as their perception of the tasks and risks.

Ergonomic design seeks to: produce equipment that most people can operate comfortably, conveniently and safely; and to design tasks to reduce human error, accidents and ill health. Ergonomic problems, typically uncovered during accident investigations include operators being, unable to see important displays, unable to reach controls, unable to work in a comfortable position, overloaded with too much information at one time, or not paying attention because there is too little to do.

Task

Working on repetitive and/or fast-paced tasks can lead to lapses of concentration. Having a job which involves risk or danger could lead to people taking their ‘eye off the ball’ when it comes to the less dangerous parts of their job. People assigned tasks for which they are not suited (because of individual factors) could also lead to problems.

Workload

Both work overload (having too much to do or the work being too difficult) and

work underload (routine, boring and under-stimulating tasks) can be sources of stress. working inconvenient and excessive hours

Environment

Jobs that are conducted in poor physical working conditions (such as high levels of noise, poor ventilation).

Display and controls

The layout of controls and displays can influence the safety of a system. Typical problems include switches which can be inadvertently knocked on or off, control panel layouts which are difficult to understand, displays which force the user to bend or stretch to read them properly, critical displays which are not in the operator’s normal field of view, poorly identified controls which the operator could select by mistake and emergency stop buttons which are difficult to reach.

Procedures

Procedures, especially operating and maintenance procedures, are important for the prevention of accidents and ill-health. Written procedures are vital in maintaining consistency and in ensuring that everyone has the same basic level of information. They are a key element of a safety management system and an important training tool. However, poor procedures can be a reason for people not following recommended actions.

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