Human Factors

Many of the characteristics relevant to human performance are relatively consistent across the population and/or cannot be changed (e.g. height and colour perception). Consequently, optimal performance can only be achieved if the system is designed to accommodate the human, rather than expecting the human to change to accommodate the system. This approach is sometimes called ‘Systems Thinking’.

Human Factors is about identifying the characteristics of a population of workers in order to design tools, work environments and processes that are a better match to their capabilities, motivations and expectations.

Clinical Human Factors
“Enhancing clinical performance through an understanding of the effects of teamwork, tasks, equipment, workspace, culture, organisation on human behaviour and abilities, and application of that knowledge in clinical settings.”
Dr Ken Catchpole, Cedars-Sinai


The Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC) is taking a more people-centred approach to improving safety and quality in NSW Health. This includes the implementation of Human Factors learnings and methodologies in:

  • Patient safety
  • Clinical redesign
  • Medical device procurement
  • Health IT usability
  • Work Health and Safety
  • Environmental design
  • Organisational management, and
  • Training design.

Conducting a Local Review of Human Factors

While the CEC works largely on system-wide human factors issues, staff can review human factors relating to local issues by thinking about the characteristics of the local system which impede performance. For example, are workers dangerously tired by the end of a shift? Does the design of a device allow for catastrophic error? Are workers unable to comply with a policy? Do workers sometimes get confused between two similar looking medications?

Introductory Resources for Human Factors

The Device Usability Evaluation Handbook
An Introductory Resource for NSW Health Employees

Poor device usability jeopardises patient and worker safety. This handbook is intended to support the work of all individuals involved in the purchase, evaluation, implementation and management of devices and equipment in NSW Health and provides practical advice regarding best-practice methods for assessing the usability of medical devices and equipment. It also provides advice for managing usability risks that are identified post-implementation.

Download PDF ~374KB

If you’re having issues performing at your best, there’s a good chance other people are having trouble too. The following presentations provide an introduction to human factors in health care.