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A systemic view of human factors: Connecting the domains through a human performance program

Abstract of the presentation presented at:
Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics Conference, sub-conference on Human Error, Reliability, Resilience and Performance
July 17–21, 2017

Prepared by:
Alice Salway
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission


Virtually every aspect of a nuclear facility’s performance is in some way determined by work activities performed by workers. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has published a discussion paper on human performance (DIS-16-05, October 2016), which takes a broad, yet human-centred, view of work activities. Discussion papers are used to solicit early public feedback on the CNSC’s policies or approaches and they play an important role in developing the regulatory framework and regulatory program. In this discussion paper, “human performance” is considered to be “the behaviours and the results of human activities while carrying out work”. The numerous factors that influence human performance, both positively and negatively, are known as “human factors”.

A human performance program takes a broad, cross-cutting view of human factors, to consider the interplay of humans, the technology and the organization in supporting people to carry out their work activities. The approach applies knowledge from the human and social sciences with the aim of continual improvement of human performance. This consideration of human performance draws from multiple fields, including safety management, human factors engineering, resilience engineering, organizational behaviour, management systems, behaviour-based safety, and the organizational, social and cognitive branches of psychology. The details of human-related areas, such as training, procedures, fitness for duty, or human factors engineering, are already considered elsewhere in the licensee’s management system and within the CNSC’s regulatory framework, so the human performance program addresses the overview and the connections between the areas.

The goal is for a licensee to have a coherent, practical approach for managing the factors that influence human performance across their organization and activities, and to maintain focus on supporting people in performing their activities effectively and safely. Four principles apply to this view of human performance:

  1. Human error is viewed as a potential symptom of deeper issues, instead of being the cause of failure.
  2. Local rationality – why what the person did made sense at the time – is considered.
  3. The roles of all levels and all departments are considered in achieving the work outcomes.
  4. The organization strives for continual improvement of the system that governs, manages, supports and guides workers in performing their work.

The conference presentation summarizes the broad view of a human performance program and presents lessons learned from communicating the systemic consideration of human factors and human performance with diverse stakeholders in the Canadian nuclear industry. Integrated assessment of human performance is suggested as a possible regulatory approach to consider in the ongoing discussion of this topic with licensees.

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