October 7, 2022 | Mark Paradies

What Are the Human Error Traps & Precursors? [Can You Spot Them?]

Error Traps and Precursors

Human Error Traps & Precursors

Do you ever see someone trapped into making a human error? Bad human engineering caused an error likely situation. Perhaps there was a precursor to the error – something that could be recognized?

After I finished studying Human Factors as part of a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering, I went to work for a well-known chemical company that was a leader in safety to help them improve human performance and process safety. We discussed things that could cause people to be more error-prone. My boss asked if I could come up with a list of potential root causes of human errors. I worked on this, and it eventually became a precursor to the TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® Diagram.

The question came up …

“Could we train people on this list of causes
so that workers could spot them and prevent errors?”

I evaluated the idea and eventually answered … “No.”

The basis for my answer was a thorough understanding of human factors and what tasks humans were best at. (See more details below.)

Time passed. About a decade later, the nuclear industry developed a Human Performance Tool called “Error Traps and Precursors” similar to the idea I had evaluated and rejected.

Let’s look a little more at this tool and see what you think about it…

Error Traps

This list below of error traps and precursors was developed from industry sources and is taught in our Stopping Human Error Training (copyrighted material used here by permission)…

error traps

and precursors

That’s quite a list. But compared to the root causes of human error in the Root Cause Tree® Diagram, an incomplete list.

What do you do when you detect an error trap or precursor? You:

  • Stop
  • Decide which error-reduction technique to apply (there are several)
  • Apply one or more of the techniques
  • Continue with your work

Does This Technique Work?

I decided long ago that this technique would not be effective. But why did I decide that? I had one reason that I decided it would not work well when I was asked to evaluate and develop the technique. Now I have several.

Perhaps the best reason that people can’t reliably perform the technique Error Traps and Precursors is:

People have limited bandwidth (attention) and aren’t good at self-monitoring
their own performance to spot potential error traps and precursors in real-time. 

If people really did concentrate on spotting error traps and precursors, it would take attention away from the work they are performing. That is multitasking. And that is an error trap/precursor! (See item four in the list above.)

So, if you use the technique, you are falling into a human error trap.

Learn More…

To learn about Human Performance Improvement Technology (sometimes called Hu Tools) and how you can improve human performance at your facility, attend a Stopping Human Error Course. Pick between a public Stopping Human Error Course or training at your site. Contact us for an on-site training quote.

We will teach the pros and cons of Human Performance Improvement Technology (sometimes called Hu Tools) and help you develop a custom program to apply the best tools that your site needs to achieve your human performance improvement goals.

Alex Paradies
Alex Paradies teaching the Stopping Human Error Course.

Don’t wait! You must improve human performance with the most effective and efficient techniques possible. The Stopping Human Error Course will help you achieve that goal.

Courses & Training, Human Performance
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