Why human error is a barrier to learning crisis management lessons

February 17, 2016 by Jonathan Hemus


Crisis prevention relies not just on crisis management training and crisis management planning, but also the ability of an organisation to learn and change based on experience.

That’s why I am troubled by the supposed cause identified for two recent accidents.

This month’s head on train crash in Bavaria, Germany, in which eleven people died has been put down to “human error” by the chief prosecutor. This mirrors Alton Towers’ findings as to the cause of last year’s Smiler accident.

Learn from crisis experience

When organisations ascribe a major disaster to “human error” it gives them a reason not to learn from the experience. After all, what can they do to prevent a random act by a mis-guided individual?

This is a dangerous attitude for an organisation which wants to create a crisis resilient culture.

Businesses should look beyond the ultimate human action or inaction which allowed an accident to occur and identify the conditions, causes and pressures which led to someone making a bad decision.

Factors can include:

  • A lack of training
  • A lack of briefing
  • Pressure to achieve goals (productivity, speed, financial etc) which could compromise safety
  • A culture which makes front line employees fearful of raising concerns
  • Inadequate safety procedures
  • Lack of empowerment of those in the front line to make decisions

Creating a crisis resilient culture

When a catastrophe occurs, it is incumbent upon the organisation involved to learn and take necessary steps to prevent a repeat incident.  Pinning the blame on human error reduces the likelihood that necessary crisis management training and crisis management planning will take place.

To learn more about how to create a crisis resilient culture, sign up for our webinar taking place on 3 March, 2016.