Human factors in anaesthesia: Beyond non-technical skills

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“Human factors” is a commonly misunderstood term variably describing the errors that humans make, the interpersonal skills that govern their interactions or the way that humans perform under different circumstances and organisational situations1. However, the professional bodies representing human factors practitioners take a more comprehensive view: “Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance2." In other words, it is the science of optimising the effect of the human in the system to make the system safer and more efficient. Ensuring the physical environment is comfortable minimises the risk of injury or repetitive strain. It reduces staff sickness and creates a setting that ensures that clinicians and patients are able to function at the highest levels. Producing an environment where it is easier to communicate, make the correct, timely decisions and coordinate critical actions also reduces the rate of adverse events. This ensures that the safety of the patient is maintained, but even if something does go wrong, that the mitigation strategies are easy to implement to prevent harm. Human factors/ergonomics (HF/E) as a discipline is not new. The Chartered Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF) in the UK celebrates its 70th birthday this year. At its core the specialty is concerned with safety and has infiltrated almost every high hazard area of manufacturing, transport and power generation, yet it lags behind in health. In this article I will outline what HF/E is, what it has achieved and to what extent anaesthesia might be affected and indeed has already been affected by this area of research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-318
Number of pages6
JournalAustralasian Anaesthesia
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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