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The effect of ‘human factors’ in Supply Chain Management

Industry Insights

The effect of ‘human factors’ in Supply Chain Management

The way tools, equipment, work processes and environments are designed can have a huge impact on human decision-making, performance and safety. Looking at these ‘human factors’ is an important way of understanding the capabilities and limitations of workers, and therefore the overall performance of a company.

To help maximise workplace safety and productivity, companies should look at how human factors impact their supply chain management. Environmental, organisational and role-specific factors, as well as group and individual characteristics, all influence the way workers behave onsite. Companies that understand the influence of human behaviour on working practices can achieve higher productivity and quality while ensuring better workplace health and safety.

Workplace safety and culture

The principal way of reducing onsite accidents is making sure that every person working for you has the right level of competence, which can be much easier to do for employees than contractors. Contractors bring a lot of benefits, such as the ability to quickly scale operations and boost team expertise. But they can also bring risks. Our research shows that contractor work is still about twice as risky as employee work.

Whether you utilise contractors or not, there are two main factors that contribute to an effective workplace health and safety culture. Firstly, staff selection, coordination, supervision and assessment are incredibly important. If your management team aren’t aware of what is happening on a site at all times, they simply can’t guarantee that work is being done correctly. Secondly, site rules, procedures, hazards and emergency arrangements must be clearly communicated to everyone. If you don’t make it clear to contractors what is expected from them, your risk management is not watertight. Regular health and safety audits such as our IOGP 423 Compliant Audits, are an important way of getting an independent and impartial assessment of your policies and performance. They can also provide invaluable insight into areas that can be improved.


One of the biggest benefits of considering human factors is that they get you thinking about some of the unseen forces that affect decision making. You can have metrics on hours worked and results achieved, but they can’t tell you how factors like workload, stress, fatigue and pressure are impacting your workplace health and safety.

We think the link between wellbeing and productivity is often underappreciated. Over the last 35 years, we have seen the frequency of injuries drop in all the industries we monitor. A large part of this is a better understanding of the need to promote wellbeing as well as safety. If workers are unhappy or sick, you risk absenteeism or presenteeism starting to affect your operations.

Regular training and employee reviews can not only help employers spot the ways that human factors contribute to increased risk, but they can also help workers identify them sooner too. It is also vital to understand how the tools and processes workers use impacts the way they work. It can be easy to get stuck in one way of performing a task because that is the way it has always done, but you may be exposing workers to unnecessary risk. We often see small tweaks to work processes or tools create big safety and productivity gains, so don’t assume that you need huge disruption.

Risk management

Effective incident tracking and worker pre-qualification are two tools that can be used to increase workplace health and safety. Using these tools properly can help companies mitigate workplace risks.

Tools like Achilles Controlar help to ensure that every person and supplier involved in a site has the right experience and skills to be there. Without it, companies are taking a risk every time an unqualified new contractor steps on to one of their sites. The data gained through pre-qualification, as well the ability to track lost time accidents, is an amazing source of insight into how people are actually working.

By giving careful consideration to the interactions between humans and technological and organisational elements of a system it is possible to significantly increase the system’s productivity and reliability.” IOGP

If you know exactly who is working for you and exactly what problems and challenges they encounter, your supply chain management systems and policies will be better matched to the everyday reality of your operations.

Creating an effective safety culture

Understanding the effect human factors can have in influencing the way people work, and how this, in turn, affects supply chain management, is only the first step. Where value can really be created is by using this insight to create a safety culture that prioritises health and wellbeing while also paving the way for higher productivity and quality.

Robin Critchard, Senior SHE Advisor at CNR International (UK) Ltd offers his advice after 30 years’ working in QHSE roles:

“To establish an effective safety culture firstly requires a need to understand the capability, stress factors, motivation and environmental conditions in which the workforce will be requested to perform their roles.

Without this, incidents where human factors are identified as a contributory cause will often be the result of insufficient or ineffective training and the tolerating of unsafe work practices.”

Here is a short checklist of tips for creating the right kind of workplace health and safety culture:

  • Communicate with staff through regular safety talks and workshops
  • Provide specific training for onsite roles, equipment and processes
  • Clearly define responsibilities and accountability
  • Implement a pro-active reporting process that actively informs strategic and management decision making
  • Commit to regular health and safety audits from an independent third party
  • Involve workers in designing processes and working environments
  • Celebrate success and let people know how their actions are contributing to increased safety and performance

In our decades of helping companies with their supply chain management and risk management, we have found that many do not consider the full impact of human factors. A large part of this is not having the right kind of high quality, verified data available.

Gain more insight into your working practices to consistently improve your safety and quality. Learn more about Achilles Controlar here, or take a look at our HSE audit service.

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