Human Factors in the Chemical and Process Industries: Making it work in practice

19 January 2017

The publishers’ summary says: This book helps safety professionals, engineers, and operators incorporate human factors considerations within the design and operation of chemical and processing plants, and I fully concur – indeed some parts have wider application. All the authors are from The Keil Centre, Edinburgh, with a strong track record of providing consultancy advice and practical tools to support organisations in the target sectors. And many parts of this lengthy book (nearly 500 pages) reinforce the practical lessons I’ve learned personally from working and consulting in major hazards sectors since 1960s. But other parts, especially in Section III – Human factors within engineering and design – included practical tools that were new to me.

In contrast to another book on this subject recently reviewed by someone else for the IOSH magazine, I found this Human Factors book intensely practical. It is full of relevant examples, every chapter has a summary of Key Points plus a list of supporting references, and not every conclusion is bland (as mentioned in that other review). Indeed Section IV – Understanding and improving organizational performance – is widely applicable for many other sectors as can be inferred from the subjects covered which include: organizational change; staffing and workload; competence; supervision; safety critical communication; fatigue; performance under pressure. For instance, the summary of ideas to aid employees and their families planning a move between countries (Table 19.4 Trying to Balance Work and Home Life, p 351) is a tool that could be used by any organisation with multinational operations.>/p>

Examples of other sound advice applicable across many sectors are: HF Factors for Investigators (i.e. what organisations and investigators themselves need to be aware of and manage, - part of Chapter 8); dimensions for seated workstations, including to a back wall – which I’ve not seen illustrated elsewhere (Fig. 12.3); managing fatigue (Chapter 22), and especially the section on ‘fatigue proofing’ – which recognises that sometimes, due to factors beyond the immediate control of the organisation, the risk of a person “not working” outweighs the risk of them working with some level of fatigue impairment, and then provides several practical ideas managing those risks.

One very small area of concern is the terminology in Chapter 4, referring to Regulator activities in the EU, where the terms Inspection and Auditing are contrasted. The authors suggest that the latter is less in-depth. Whilst that might be correct in the specific context given, it could be highly misleading if used more widely, for example in the context of management systems, such as the draft ISO45001. For management systems, ‘Inspection’ is an element of planned monitoring for compliance with defined standards, whilst ‘Audit’ is an in-depth examination of a process or system, hopefully targeted to identify improvement opportunities, not just compliance (though, sadly, compliance with defined external standards is sometimes all that both auditors and auditees are looking for).

This book is an excellent compendium of theory, examples, practical tools and references, a valuable addition to the personal library of both experienced OSH professionals and those seeking to develop their existing competencies in Human Factors and Ergonomics. In that context, the section on Technical and Non-Technical Competencies (part of Chapter 20.3, pp 397-401) links well with the IOSH Blueprint tool for assessing your competencies and planning the next steps in your professional development.

Edited by Janette Edmonds, Elsevier (, £73.
Rating: 5 out of 5

Ian Waldram CFIOSH