Human Factors

Human Factors COMAH Delivery Guide

The Human Factors COMAH Delivery Guide was developed by the HSE following a need to establish a framework for inspecting Human Factors (HF) at COMAH establishments. Scroll down for an overview and summary.

The Six Topic Framework​

This guide outlines six topic areas that cover the various aspects of Human Factors that all upper and lower tier COMAH sites should adhere to in order to prevent any Major Accident Hazards (MAH) scenarios.

This is a structured approach to Human Factors risk management. Similar guidance for offshore facilities in the UK has broken this down into more topics, but the areas covered are much the same. Other sectors could adopt a similar approach, but again might have different topics with different content. 

Topic 1 – Managing Human Performance

This topic provides an overview of embedding Human Factors practices on site. This includes looking at the full range of task types, including Maintenance, Inspection and Testing (MIT), and getting inputs from different site disciplines (e.g., operators, engineers, managers) to establish structured and sustainable Human Factors initiatives. Moreover, the guide encourages sites to adopt both a proactive (Safety Critical Task Analysis – SCTA) and retrospective (incident investigation) approach to risk management.

Topic 2 – Human Factors in Process Design

This topic describes the importance of good design such as Human-Machine Interfaces (HMI), control room designs, plant design and alarm design. Good process designs are fundamental for sites as they enable operators to identify any MAH scenarios and make quick and informed decisions to recover from potential MAH risks.  

Topic 3 – COMAH-Critical Communication

Topic 3 looks at the role of communicative standards practised on site. Clear and effective communication is critical when performing any safety critical tasks. Such communication is effective in establishing a shared mental model across the team and raising any issues or concerns found during an operation. This applies to verbal communication (e.g., task and shift handovers) and written communication (e.g., permit-to-work, forms) as both these forms of communication are critical in controlling the onset of any major incidents.

Topic 4 – Design and Management of Procedures

In this topic, the guide emphasises how procedures can help mitigate and prevent incidents. Well-written procedures are highly effective tools for informing the hazards and consequences of safety-critical tasks to the users and for demonstrating the standard of work practices conducted on site. Well-designed and meaningful Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are valuable as these documents can be used to train new personnel and go hand-in-hand with managing the staff’s competence level. 

Topic 5 – Competence Management System (CMS)

This topic describes the role of an adequate CMS and its contribution to standardising and improving the competency levels of the operators, engineers, and managers for critical tasks. A well-run site relies heavily on the level of skills, work experience and knowledge of its staff as it provides them the opportunity and ability to perform their job responsibilities and duties efficiently. Thus, it is important that COMAH sites establish a structured and adequate approach for identifying critical task steps, and ensuring that staff have the required knowledge and skills to perform those steps successfully.

Topic 6 – Managing Organisational Factors

The final topic in this guide highlights the role of organisational factors such as staffing levels, workload, and fatigue. These closely related factors can influence the team’s physical and cognitive capability, which in turn impinge on their work efficacy and ability. Hence, it is important that organisations focus on managing their resources efficiently so that sites are able perform their responsibilities to the best standard possible. 

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Related Resources

We’ve created different resources for people at different stages of their Human Factors journey. We have a FREE mini-course and handbook on critical task analysis, and a course introducing Human Factors for Process Safety.

Introductory Course

SCTA Introduction and case study​

Our Human Factors for Process Safety, Loss Prevention and COMAH  course gives a good introduction to Human Factors, an overview of the six topics in the delivery guide including their success criteria, human error and a walkthrough of a SCTA case study. Designed for Process Safety Engineers, HSE professionals, HF focal points and managers.

FREE Download

This short and engaging handbook provides a great overview of human Factors Critical Task Reviews (HFCTR) and how it helps people across sectors reduce error and improve human performance.