Human error is a very large subject, quite as extensive as that covered by the term human performance. But these daunting proportions can be reduced in at least two ways. The topic can be treated in a broad but shallow fashion, aiming at a wide though superficial coverage of many well-documented error types. Or, an attempt can be made to carve out a narrow but relatively deep slice, trading comprehensiveness for a chance to get at some of the more general principles of error production. I have tried to achieve the latter.
The book is written with a mixed readership in mind: cognitive psychologists, human factors professionals, safety managers and reliability engineers – and, of course, their students. As far as possible, I have tried to make both the theoretical and the practical aspects of the book accessible to all. In other words, it presumes little in the way of prior specialist knowledge of either kind. Although some familiarity with the way psychologists think, write and handle evidence is clearly an advantage, it is not a necessary qualification for tackling the book. Nor, for that matter, should an unfamiliarity with high-technology systems deter psychologists from reading the last two chapters.
Errors mean different things to different people. For cognitive theorists, they offer important clues to the covert control processes underlying routine human action. To applied practitioners, they remain the main threat to the safe operation of high-risk technologies.
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