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Legislated Human Factors is Bad Human Factors!

Legislated Human Factors is Bad Human Factors!


Recently, Contra Costa County, Northeast of San Francisco, passed a law requiring the local oil refineries to have a human factors program. It was reported that this pleased both the environmentalists in the area as well as the OCAW local. However, Beville believes that legislating human factors is not only wrong, but counter productive.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission mandated human factors programs in the wake of the accident at Three Mile Island, with some general results. While there may have been a one-time improvement in the ergonomics of the control rooms, long term consideration of human factors was likely inhibited. Plant management, after conducting the "required" reviews, could "check the box" that a human factors analysis had been performed. Often, no value was seen of the program other than to get the regulatory agency off the plantís back. Where resources for human factors efforts had to be diverted from other (possibly more valuable, but not mandated) programs, the human factors analyses were forever branded as being of little value. Any ongoing human factors effort was relegated to activities that would not result in any "hassles," nor much good.

Beville has been doing human factors analyses in oil refineries since 1984, with most of our business generated by word of mouth. We provide a good service (most of the time) at a reasonable price (most of the time) and many refinery professionals donít hesitate to use us repeatedly to answer questions on human performance. Because the demand for our services is not mandated, our services have to be recognized as cost-effective and adding value to refinery operation. The same is not true when the service is required by a law.

With the regulation for human factors in the nuclear industry came an associated step-increase in demand; human factors practitioners popped-up overnight. Many were ill-qualified to work on a nuclear power plant, despite years of work in aerospace industries. I doubt many human factors professionals would even know the difference between a hydrocracker and a cat cracker, much less the differences in the operating characteristics of each. While human factors professionals tell you that detailed knowledge of the system is not necessary, there is a minimum requirement for understanding not only the units, but the nuances of refinery operation as well.

Legislated human factors may increase the consideration of the persons in oil refineries, but it also has the potential (1) to prevent long term use of human factors technology and/or (2) to cause a backlash against human factors technology if it has been applied by less than knowledgeable professionals. Let the demand for human factors grow as it is shown to be a value added activity, while at the same time increasing the knowledge base required by the profession to do a good job.

Copyright © 1998 Beville Engineering, Inc.


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This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 7-10 in Houston, TX. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!


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