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Introduction to the series by Christina Koutsoukos
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Professor Jim Reason

Human error: getting it right when you get it wrong
There’s probably never been a more pertinent time to speak with Professor James Reason, or Jim as he’s better known, about the management of accidents in the workplace. Jim has spent many years studying human error and safety systems and is a highly respected leader in his field. He concludes that human error is unavoidable and notes that instead of focussing on attributing blame and eliminating incidents entirely, organisations should concentrate on improving systems to more efficiently manage incidents when they do occur. Listen to Jim discuss ways in which we can develop a safety culture with Christina Koutsoukos. (Running time: 28 mins 50 secs; Download: 25.9MB)

Conversation focus
  • No system is perfect. Under certain conditions system weaknesses will line up so that a human error is almost inevitable. This is Sod’s or Murphy’s Law
  • The focus should be on error management, not elimination.
  • Human errors are unavoidable. People will tend to make the same genuine mistakes. Therefore errors can be anticipated. As any great surgeon would do, have backup plans and procedures at the ready for when the inevitable errors occur.
  • Don’t blame the individual (only a small percentage of errors are the result of bad behaviour). Encourage people to report errors so that systems can be improved.

About Jim Reason

Professor James Reason is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Manchester University in the UK. In the 1970s he was inspired by an absent-minded mistake – putting cat food in a tea pot – to begin investigating the common causes or conditions leading to mistakes, accidents and human error. Jim has examined the systems in many industries, including the nuclear industry, aviation and most recently, the health industry. 

Useful resources

Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents (1997) 

Human Error (1990) 

‘Human error: models and management’ BMJ 2000, 320, 768-70 

‘Beyond the organisational accident: the need for “error wisdom” on the frontline’ Qual Saf Health Care' 2004; 13(suppl 2), ii28-ii33 

Score your safety culture 

Original artwork by Nicola Hensel

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