What is Human Error


Definition of Human Error

Human error is an umbrella term that encompasses any mistake or fault made in a process or system due to the action or inaction of a person. It can be an intentional action, or it can be an oversight. Human error can lead to accidents or even disasters in some cases, and it needs to be identified, understood, and rectified in order to reduce the risk of future errors.

Types of Human Error

Human error is a general term that refers to mistakes made by humans in day to day activities. It is often used in reference to human behavior in the context of accidents and errors that cause harm to machines or people.

To better understand the concept of human error, it helps to distinguish between two types: slips and lapses.

  • Slips occur when we mistakenly perform the wrong action, even if we are performing familiar tasks and have an understanding of what needs to be done. A common example of a slip is accidentally entering a wrong telephone number when you know the correct number, or putting milk in your coffee instead of sugar.
  • Lapses, on the other hand, occur because people forget things, either because they lack knowledge or because their short-term memory fails them. An example of a lapse would be forgetting to turn off the stove after cooking dinner or forgetting where you put your keys.

Both slips and lapses can be caused by physical and cognitive factors such as fatigue, distraction, stress or high workloads. A combination of all these factors can lead individuals down a path towards making mistakes and committing human errors which can consequently lead towards undesired outcomes like injury or damage. It is therefore important for individuals to remain mindful when performing tasks in order to reduce the negative impact resulting from human error that may potentially result from unawareness.

Slips and Lapses

Slips and lapses occur when a person performs an unintended action. Slips are errors of action, and a lapse is an error of inaction. In either case, the result is due to an interruption in concentration or focus. Slips and lapses can happen even in activities in which the performer has a great deal of knowledge or experience.

For example, tasks that require repetitive movements by habit—such as driving on the highway for some distance—can lead to “throwing away” conscious thought about what comes next in the action sequence, allowing more intensive concentration on more complex things like multitasking or any activities taking place with other people present. Because stops signs are usually situated consistently at regular intervals along highways, drivers who “throw away” conscious thought may miss a stop sign without realizing it was even there—a lapse of attention. Similarly, while combining ingredients to bake a cake or performing any task that typically involves measurements can result in mismeasuring one ingredient due to solely relying on habit rather than methodical thinking—a slip of the hand.

Slips and lapses typically occur when part of a behavior sequence omits input or interaction (lapses) or executes an unintended movement (slips). These errors often incorporate failure of monitoring as part of their cause as well; that is, a lack of timely awareness that something has gone wrong when compared with expectations derived from experience. This type of human error is often caused by being both time-consuming and effortful.


Mistakes or lapses occur when an individual inappropriately or incorrectly deploys a skill, knowledge or action in an unexpected situation. A mistake could be based on inexperience, omission of a step in a procedure, incorrect execution of a skill (perhaps as the result of over-running a memory segment) or any other breakdown in the normal process or implementation of knowledge or skills.

While human error can not typically be completely prevented, its effects can often be minimized through proper design and planning. Therefore, understanding and analyzing potential human errors plays an important role in ensuring the safety and security of people, processes and systems.

For example, careful consideration needs to be given to the design of equipment used by workers to minimize any potential for misuse that might lead to an accident. It is also essential to provide employees with appropriate training on how to properly use equipment and carry out their duties. Additionally, clear instructions provided throughout business processes may help reduce errors made by people carrying out tasks.


Violations are deliberate contraventions of rules, regulations, or guidelines. These may be a result of negligence, errors or simply not being aware that an inadvertent mistake was made and a rule has been violated. There are three sub-classifications to this type of human error: slips, lapses, and mistakes.

  • Slips occur when an individual deviates from their intended action due to inconsistencies between their mental model and the environment in which they operate. This can happen when a person is overloaded with tasks or when their attention wanes due to mundane tasks.
  • Lapses are essentially momentary losses of attention; they occur as a result of forgetfulness or thoughtlessness rather than intent.
  • Mistakes happen due to gaps in knowledge and faulty reasoning where incorrect decisions are made under pressure or uncertainty in unfamiliar situations.

While all types of violations are ultimately caused by humans, there is potential to reduce the risk and increase safety through awareness and training such that violations become far more unlikely – indeed many approaches to safety seek to eliminate human error altogether by introducing automated systems wherever possible.

Causes of Human Error

Human errors happen when a person fails to do something correctly or makes mistakes due to lack of knowledge or skill. It is a common occurrence in many workplaces and can have serious consequences if not addressed.

There are many causes of human error, including

  • fatigue
  • lack of training
  • complacency
  • distraction

We will explore these causes in more detail in this article.

Poor Design

Poor design, be it of a product or system, is one of the most common causes of human error. Poorly designed products, tools, and systems make it difficult to use appropriately and accurately. This may be due to:

  • complex components or systems
  • unreadable labels or instructions
  • confusing prompts or sequences
  • the lack of necessary information, training and support material

Poor designs can also have ergonomic problems, leading users to adopt awkward postures when using a product that could strain muscles and joints in their arms or back as well as lead to fatigue. Furthermore, poorly designed equipment may not be comfortable for users to operate which could lead them to take shortcuts and make mistakes.

Similarly unclear calculations or processes can contribute to human errors being made when completing a task as employees may become confused about what is expected of them.

Lack of Training

Lack of training is one of the most common factors that can lead to an increase in human errors. Employees who are not given the proper training for their job roles may struggle to keep up with expectations, leading them to make mistakes and errors more frequently. Poor quality training can also contribute to a lack of knowledge about safe and effective working practices, leading to minor, as well as more serious, accidents.

In addition to this, workers who do not have adequate knowledge or resources may become overwhelmed by their tasks, leading to increased feelings of stress or anxiety which can lead to errors in the workplace. Those who have an inaccurate understanding of a process or procedure may be unable to follow protocol correctly and could end up making mistakes that cost time and money.

To avoid this problem it’s important for employers to provide industry-specific courses or refresher courses that are tailored towards employees’ individual job roles so they always have clear instructions on how they should carry out their tasks safely and efficiently. Regular safety meetings should also be held so all staff can update their skills and learn about any changes in processes or procedures that take place within their company. Taking proactive steps such as these will help reduce the incidents of human error caused by lack of training in your organization and ultimately help keep everyone safe in the workplace.


Fatigue is an important cause of human error and is highly associated with a variety of cognitive, affective and physical changes. Generally speaking, fatigue can be defined as an involuntary physical or mental state in which the individual experiences a level of diminished performance potential, concentration and alertness.

These factors of reduced alertness and concentration can have deadly consequences if they contribute to errors while operating complex systems such as machinery or vehicles.

Fatigue originates from a decline in arousal levels due to prolonged periods of working without restful sleep or prolonged periods of little stimulation. This decline in arousal levels can lead to:

  • Difficulty forming accurate perceptions, thoughts, emotions and intentions
  • Decreased accuracy and increased reaction time
  • Impeded memory recall
  • Alterations on what the individual chooses to attend or ignore
  • Lack of rationality
  • Reduced capability for logical reasoning
  • Difficulties with multi-tasking, problem solving and decision making
  • Attention-deficit symptoms such as distractibility and impulsivity
  • Impaired judgment leading to risk-taking behavior
  • Inappropriate decisions based on habit instead of updated knowledge

It places individuals into a higher-than-normal chance for human error due to its contribution to both physical impairment (fatigue related behaviors) as well as cognitive impairment (fatigue related performance).


Stress is one of the biggest causes of human error. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when facing a big job or difficult task, and when that happens people often take shortcuts or make mistakes. This can be thanks to an excessive workload, lack of resources, feeling under appreciated or not having enough time to complete tasks properly.

Human error related to stress can manifest in many different ways, be it a missed deadline, a wrong calculation, being overly critical in your thinking, missing crucial details or simply putting too much pressure on oneself. Often stress manifest itself in the form of ‘cognitive overload’ where there is simply too much information for our brains to process – leading us to miss out on smaller details that could have a major impact on our work.

Stress can also lead us down damaging paths such as multi-tasking: focusing on multiple tasks at once instead of tackling things one at-a-time which inevitably leads to poor performance and quality assurance suffers as a result. Other consequences include impaired concentration and decision making; this is dangerous because these are two manual functions that need mindfulness and discipline in order to reach success.

Managing stress levels is essential when it comes to mitigating human error as it has long been established that stress is one of the most common contributors amongst office workers so appropriate coping strategies should be implemented such as meditation during breaks, positive reframing and working through difficulty systematically rather than all at once. Practicing mindfulness can also help with managing stress levels by helping people remain focused throughout their day-to-day activities without overanalyzing issues and allowing worries become overly burdensome.

Impact of Human Error

Human error is a natural consequence of the human condition, and can cause serious disruption to any organisation. The potential for human error is omnipresent, and as such it is important to acknowledge the impact that it can have on both systems and people.

In this section, we will cover the various impacts of human error, and what can be done to reduce or mitigate it:

Financial Loss

When humans make errors, there are several ways in which it can have a significant financial impact. This can include consequences with legal implications, as well as direct losses resulting from a redundant task or improved processes that never get implemented.

One major expense can be in the cost of rectifying mistakes or accidents caused by human error. In some cases this cost is relatively minor but when catastrophic failure such as an airplane crash or oil spill occur, the costs involved could be very large indeed.

Error-related losses also increase costs associated with wasteful activities such as:

  • over-ordering of materials due to misreading orders
  • under-performing machines due to incorrect installation or lack of maintenance
  • extra salary money lost from an employee who does wrong calculations and does not take corrective action even after knowing it is wrong

It’s known that these are especially costly for manufacturing businesses. Aside from production losses and increased expense to cover additional working hours, human error can lead to serious repercussions when machinery fails and puts employees at risk of injury. Manufacturing firms might also face difficulties in getting their products certified if inspections show that their standards deviate too much from the standard practices in their industry because of mistakes made by its workers along any stage of production process.

Aside from direct financial loss related to errors committed, there is also the cost associated with competing in high pressured markets where quality assurance regimens must be closely followed or else they would get behind their competition quickly and fall into negative market shares very quickly both in terms of consumer trust and profitable operations outlooks respectively.

Health and Safety Risks

Human errors can have serious implications for the safety and welfare of people in and around certain locations. In the workplace, human errors can lead to accidents at work, injury, loss of life and destruction of property. Examples include mistakes when operating machinery, improper transport of hazardous materials, faulty maintenance on equipment, failing to identify risks and general carelessness. From a health perspective, human error can lead to transmission of diseases through misplaced equipment or unhygienic practices.

Safety protocols should be regularly evaluated and updated in order to minimize any potential risk posed by human error especially in high risk environments such as nuclear power plants or industrial chemical manufacturing facilities. To reduce the risks associated with human error it is necessary to ensure that all staff are properly trained on safety protocol and all actions are monitored closely. This is especially important when introducing new technologies or processes that may contain inherent dangers not previously encountered by staff.

Additionally, operators must be meticulously monitored for mental fatigue or physical strain that may lead to lapses in concentration which increase the chances of making critical mistakes with potentially grave consequences for those involved or affected by their actions.

Damage to Reputation

Human error can cause considerable damages to a company’s reputation, which can have a lasting negative impact on both the public’s opinion and the bottom line. A single mistake caused by human error can damage customer loyalty, decrease customer willingness to purchase a product, and damage shareholders’ confidence in the company. It can also cause potential customers and partners to view the company as untrustworthy or unreliable.

The problem of human error is so prevalent that companies create failure-proof systems that help ensure customer safety, reduce customer dissatisfaction, and lead to increased sales. These systems use techniques such as process automation or accurate data collection that reduces the chance of mistakes being made.

  • Automation usually involves setting up an automated procedure for tasks involved in business operations, eliminating manual intervention and reducing errors that it may cause.
  • Accurate data collection helps ensure that customer information is always correct and up-to-date so customer experience isn’t disrupted by erroneous data entry.

Companies should also strive for transparency when publishing incorrect data or having an oversight due to human error – corrective action needs to be taken as quickly as possible in order to preserve customers’ trust and prevent further reputational damage.

Strategies to Reduce Human Error

Human error is any mistake that is caused by an individual or individuals in the workplace. This can be anything from a wrong key being pressed to a missed step in a process. While we can’t completely eliminate human error, there are some strategies we can use to reduce the likelihood of it.

This section will look at different strategies for minimizing errors caused by human beings in the workplace:

Improve Design

Improving the design of the workplace and processes can have a major impact on reducing human errors. When it comes to physical elements in a workspace, be sure that they are fully ergonomic, well-lit, correctly spaced, and free from distractions or anything else that could hinder safe work practices. Additionally, task-specific equipment or tools should be provided to ensure that workers are protected against unnecessary risk.

In terms of process design, it’s important to understand how the job is undertaken and performed. By involving employees in decision making regarding process improvements, you can ensure that all steps are taken into account and can customize a process unique to the individual roles within your organization.

The implementation of systems like checklists or the automation of certain tasks can also help minimize human errors for workers who are already familiar with common tasks and processes. The use of production bulletin boards and notice boards can help inform employees about any changes related to job functions or other relevant information. Finally, having effective communication between departments (e.g., accounting departments) is essential, as it allows better collaboration with colleagues and reduces any confusion caused by discrepancies in records or incorrect assumptions made by executives or managers.

Increase Training and Education

In order to reduce human error, one of the most effective ways is to increase training and education for those doing the work. This means taking the time to provide detailed instruction on tasks and performance expectations. It also means providing hands-on training and demonstration as a way to reinforce knowledge and build confidence. Additionally, consider monitoring performers periodically to ensure their skills are up-to-date and they are able to complete their duties with minimal risk to themselves or others.

Frequent communication between supervisors, managers, plant personnel, along with active listening is an important component too. It helps ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding tasks and responsibilities. Moreover, communication shouldn’t be limited strictly within a hierarchy structure—encouraging open dialogue among all personnel also has its merits in reducing human error incidents; it serves as an opportunity for peers to share best practices while keeping everyone accountable as well as providing moral support in times of difficulty or stress.

Finally, supporting continuous learning and development helps create a culture centered around personal growth rather than blame or passivity when errors occur. It can mean creating resources such as resource libraries or peer discussion forums that allow team members access to research articles or webinars related to safety quality topics that can help build expertise beyond what is traditionally found in training materials. Regularly investing in your personnel both professionally and personally helps create an atmosphere where mistakes can happen yet still be seen through a learning lens instead of with fear or negativity attached to them.

Implement Fatigue Management Strategies

Fatigue management strategies are designed to help reduce human error by encouraging individuals to be more mindful of when they should take breaks, and developing better rhythms to their activities. Implementing fatigue management strategies can have a significant impact on workplace morale and safety as well as overall productivity. Strategies that organizations can use to help meet these goals may include:

  • Promoting regular breaks throughout the day: To help combat fatigue, workers should take regular breaks throughout the day—even if only for 5-10 minute intervals. Additionally, encourage employees to capitalize on their natural energy cycles by taking afternoon naps or engaging in gentle forms of exercise before lunch rather than afterwards.
  • Stacking working hours: Working too long without a break can increase the chance of an accident or incident caused by fatigue. To avoid that, consider stacking employees’ working hours instead of having them work full 8 hour days with no break in between shifts.
  • Limiting overtime and double shifts: Limiting how much overtime is worked minimizes the probability of accidents related to exhaustion and ensures employees get sufficient rest between shifts for better recovery and performance.
  • Creating a timeout policy: A timeout policy gives workers the opportunity and permission to signal that they are feeling fatigued—giving them autonomy and helping provide better worker protection against hazardous conditions or unsafe practices due to tiredness.

By implementing fatigue management strategies such as these, organizations can create safer work environments with fewer mistakes and increased productivity from their teams.

Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is a major factor in causing human error due to its effects on cognitive functioning and decision-making processes. Therefore, it is important to reduce stress levels in order to minimize the chances of human error occurring.

Ways to reduce stress in the workplace include:

  • Providing adequate resources for tasks.
  • Allotting enough time for tasks to be completed.
  • Avoiding multitasking.
  • Providing constructive feedback on performance.

Additionally, allowing employees adequate time off can help prevent burnout and keep stress levels under control. Stress management techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises can also be beneficial in reducing stress. Not only will these strategies decrease the likelihood of making an error, but they may also increase productivity and satisfaction among employees.


In conclusion, human error refers to mistakes made by people when performing activities or tasks. It can be due to various factors, such as inappropriate decision making, lack of knowledge or understanding of the task, or poor attention to detail. As a result, it can lead to loss of time, resources, or even accidents.

To reduce the likelihood and impact of human error, it is important for organizations to implement suitable measures and processes that ensure staff are properly trained and equipped with the skills necessary for their role. Additionally, having a comprehensive information architecture that is easy for users to navigate and access can help prevent mismanagement of resources. Finally, organizations should have effective communication strategies in place so that all staff are aware of changes in procedures that could impact their day-to-day operations.

By following these steps and staying vigilant about potential risks associated with human error, businesses can reduce the risk of costly mistakes from occurring across their organization:

  • Implement suitable measures and processes that ensure staff are properly trained and equipped with the skills necessary for their role.
  • Have a comprehensive information architecture that is easy for users to navigate and access.
  • Have effective communication strategies in place so that all staff are aware of changes in procedures.
  • Stay vigilant about potential risks associated with human error.