Human-Factors Engineering Mitigates Accidents in Process Industries

In process industries, major accidents can result in numerous severe injuries or fatalities. This study reviews the broken human factors and barriers leading to these events and highlights key aspects of a technological-risk-assessment processes.


Major accidents happen in process industries with relatively low frequency but often with extremely severe consequences. Harm to workers and the public, a loss of company property and other assets, business interruptions, and environmental degradations are all possible outcomes of such events. This paper explores the human factors in relation to major process accidents within the last decade and offers suggestions for accident prevention through process-safety-management (PSM) principles, risk assessment, and engineering philosophies.

In process industries, a major accident can result in numerous severe injuries or fatalities. In an effort to prevent this, a series of barriers combining human and engineering elements has been integrated into process-system designs. This study will review the broken human factors and barriers leading to the development of these events and highlight key aspects of the Total Abu Al Bukhoosh Technological Risk Assessment processes. These assessments seek to ensure similar major accident hazards and threats are arrested through proper evaluation and systematic installment of human-specific barriers.


In the industrial world of deriving raw materials from natural sources, processing them, and producing end products for various types of customers and businesses, there has been a history of great harm caused to people, assets, and the environments along these product chains. The significance of harm has been somewhat quantified on the basis of the type of industry, the complexity of processes, the raw materials derived and used, and the byproducts produced. Naturally, the more risky the industries are, the bigger the detrimental consequences it produces. Despite major accidents occurring in the process industries with relatively low frequencies, the severe consequences that have resulted in loss of lives and damage to assets and their respective environments have been validated empirically. In some cases, the damages have been irreversible and could last for years, such as the accidents at Bhopal, Chernobyl, Deepwater Horizon, and Fukushima. To qualify the dynamics of major accidents in the process industry, a universal series of definitions has been applied to these adverse events that have led to major releases through loss of containment leading to chemical fires, major asphyxiation, explosions, radiation exposure, and non-natural structural collapse, all of which result in multiple casualties and major detriment to environment and damages of assets.

The human elements, on the other hand, have been identified by various names such as human factors, human errors, ergonomics, and person/job fit. The development of research in this field has been gradually on the rise as industries and researchers alike are seeing more correlation between human errors and industrial accidents. Incident investigations, as well, have evolved from process and equipment into trying to comprehend the human error involved better. It has been noted that the human/machine interface has rapidly become more complex and sophisticated machines have surpassed the ability of people to operate them efficiently. A series of industrial accidents has motivated companies to pursue initiatives in identifying possible human-factors involvement and anticipate such errors in design and engineering stages of development of the machines.

The human-factors areas of research have involved studies of physiological aspects as well as behavioral, cognitive, and aptitude of machine operators interfacing with machines. In generalized terms, stress, fatigue, intelligence, anticipation/foresight, and motor controls have been determined by researchers as primary causes in post-incident reporting.

The identification of human errors routinely has been noted as the cause of accidents in the absence of properly engineered systems. Earlier perspectives supported the idea that engineered systems intrinsically take into consideration the threat to safety that comes from the inherent unreliability of people. The current perspective sees human error not as a cause but,  instead, as a symptom of failure in a bigger process. As a predictable outcome, human error, therefore, has been determined to be a symptom of a problem in the design of any large processing systems. These conclusions and determinations support the idea that human error can be addressed systematically by features associated with people, tools, tasks, and operating environments. The resulting progress on safety comes from enhanced understanding of primary conditions and variables and supports systematic reviews and analyses.

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