Human and Organizational Factors

This section of the learning portal contains educational material and practical tools related to Human and Organizational Factors. See below for common questions about Human and Organizational Factors and a list of learning resources.

What are Human and Organizational Factors?

The term “Human and Organizational Factors” is defined as:

  1. “the discipline or body of knowledge concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the application of theory, principles, data, and methods of design to optimize system performance; and
  2. factors which affect human performance.”

(Canadian Standard Association [CSA], 2022)Footnote 1

Why consider Human and Organizational Factors?

Human and Organizational Factors (HOF) informs how we think about a workplace and applies tools, data, methods, and training to optimize human and organizational performance. With respect to safety and environmental protection, HOF can be applied proactively (e.g., as part of hazard identification and risk management processes) or reactively (e.g., to understand and identify factors that have contributed to an event in order to prevent recurrence).

HOF considers the workplace to be a system, that is, a set of interacting or interdependent parts that form a unified whole. The interdependent parts of the workplace system include:

  • the people (individual workers and teams) performing the work;
  • the equipment and technology being used to perform work;
  • the physical environment in which work is being performed; and
  • the organization’s culture, policies, procedures, training, resourcing, etc., which govern and/or support performance of work.

Using a proactive approach, HOF provides concepts and methods to support the identification, evaluation, and management of socio-technical hazards, i.e., specific hazards resulting from the relationship between the different parts of this workplace system.

Once understood, HOF control areas can be used to mitigate related hazards and improve performance outcomes. Examples of where a HOF analysis may be focused to understand and control undetected hazards, include but are not limited to:

  • How the design of a procedure may introduce risk (e.g., poor document control resulting in use of outdated procedure document(s), procedure is too text-heavy which impedes clarity of instructions)
  • How the interface of a computerized tool may become a hazard if not carefully designed for human use
  • How a person’s physical and/or cognitive capabilities may impact success of safe work (e.g., fatigue, height, strength, attention to task, memory, etc.)
  • How team dynamics (e.g., significant language or age differences and differing beliefs and values) and team situational awareness (e.g., shared understanding and shared mental model of a situation and tasks) may adversely impact the work being undertaken
  • How the dangers of insufficient staffing, inadequate competency, and poor workload management can introduce significant risk to safe work execution
  • How a culture that does not support open communication and continual learning and improvement can compromise performance of the entire workplace system.

Integrating HOF within a company’s management system supports effective safety management and the prevention of harms. In addition to the learning resources linked below, more information about HOF control areas can be found in the Canadian Standard Association Express Document No. 16:22 Human and organizational factors for optimal pipeline performance.

What is the relationship between Human and Organizational Factors and Safety Culture?

The discipline of Human and Organizational Factors (HOF) utilizes systems thinking, meaning workplaces are viewed as complex and dynamic systems comprised of ever-changing and interacting people, technology, and organizational elements. Safety culture is considered an organizational element, and therefore falls within the broader framework of HOF (see culture depicted in the Systems Thinking: The Workplace System One-pager).

Safety culture is arguably the most powerful HOF in shaping performance. Safety culture is primarily influenced by leadership and represents the collective attitudes, values, norms, and beliefs regarding safety and risk. As an underlying, unconscious phenomenon, culture permeates all other elements of the workplace system, and subsequently, performance outcomes.


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