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Human Error at Work


Admission requirements

Master students specialisation Applied Cognitive Psychology


Human Error at Work provides an overview of methods and approaches that can be used to obtain a better insight into systemic and behaviour-related causes of accidents. In this course the focus will be upon Organizational Accidents; comparatively rare, but often catastrophic, events that occur within complex technological systems, such as the Bhopal and Piper Alpha disasters. The risks of hazardous technologies will be studied using a socio-technical approach. In this approach human error is a natural consequence of the organizational culture, social factors and the way the work is organized and performed. The main message is that most of the effective solutions to human error concern the conditions under which people work rather than the human condition itself.

The emphasis in the course will be on issues such as safety culture and climate and their impact on:

  • accident rates

  • the engineering of a safety culture

  • the way inadequacies of the system at workplace and organizational levels promote human error.

The principles underlying the measurement of the ‘safety health’ of organizations will be discussed for the following work environments: industry (e.g. Oil and Gas), transport (Commercial Aviation, Marine, Rail) and health care.

After the introductory classes, students will work in small project groups using the theoretical insights to address practical questions (accident investigation and analysis, risk analyses, safety climate diagnosis, assessing the ‘safety health’ of a system, engineering a safety culture). Case studies will be taken from the extensive practical experience of the faculty in all of these areas, working with major multi-national companies. The students will present their proposals in seminars where there will be ample time for critical discussion and (written) feedback, focusing on theoretical background of analyses, methodological issues and feasibility of proposals for improvement.

Course objectives

The main objectives of this course are:

  • students will acquire advance knowledge about the theoretical background behind modern theories of accident causation, especially in high-hazard industries and the use of theoretically justified approaches to remediation and improvement;

  • students will learn basic skills in incident investigation and analysis and in the use of risk analysis techniques;

  • students will be able to write reports and make presentations demonstrating their ability to apply these skills in both academic and industrial settings.


Human Error at Work (2010-2011):

The course consists of 11 approximately three-hour lectures/seminars between October 27 and December 16. The exact details of the lectures will be made available in week 42.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, seminars

Assessment method

Active participation in the program, project report, presentations and take-home exam

From January 1, 2006 the Faculty of Social Sciences has instituted the Ephorus system to be used by instructors for the systematic detection of plagiarism in students’ written work. Please see the information concerning fraud .


Information on

Reading list

  • Book (to be announced)

  • Case studies

  • Instruments


Introduction and enrolment for courses of the first semester will take place on 2 September 2010. Introduction and enrolment for courses of the second semester will take place on 27 January 2011. More information will be available at the website of the Institute of Psychology.

NB: Exam registration will take place via uSis, and will be open between a month and a week before the (re)exam. Students who haven’t registered, cannot participate in the exam.

Contact information

Prof. dr. P.T.W. Hudson
Room 2-A49
Phone: 071-5273820