Keeping Up to Date – Human Behavior Analysis Without a PhD

Keeping Up to Date – Human Behavior Analysis Without a PhD

Scott Alan Jones, Decision Systems, Inc.,

Architect of the REASON® Root Cause Analysis Software and RAID™ Human Behavior Analysis Software, Mr. Jones served as the lead root cause analyst for the Department of Energy’s international analysis team on the North East Electric Power Outage of August 2003. He is a noted lecturer and analysis consultant to government, business and industry. In his article “Human Behavior Analysis Without a PhD” he details the conceptual foundation of the RAID™ analysis process and software and explains its application.

Savvy professionals in safety, quality, maintenance and reliability have long recognized that human performance analysis could be a bonanza for opportunities to improve and control operations. This article describes and explains a new approach to human factor analysis, an approach that provides a repeatable process and a practical methodology that can be used immediately by working professionals to deal with unwanted human behavior in the workplace.

Let us first wipe away some of the popular perceptions about human behavior that have traditionally stood as obstacles to any practical progress by business and industry to deal with the elusive issue of human behavior. An employee’s relationship to his father, the argument at the breakfast table, the sorrow and joy of family experiences, and the deep personal belief systems spawned by different ethnic and religious backgrounds simply are not areas in which the organization can expect success in bringing about a change in an individual’s behavior on the job. Of course such elemental issues do dramatically bear upon human behavior, but even so, that knowledge does little to enable us in business, industry and government to help an individual toward improved performance on the job. Instead, we must place the human behavior into organizational context, so that we can realistically expect to do something about the behavior. Is there a way to look at human behavior on-the-job as a consequence of an interaction between a unique individual and a unique organizational environment? The answer is YES.

The key to analyzing unwanted human behavior on the job is to focus upon the elements that function within organization and over which the organization has some reliable degree of control. Those elements are the job itself, the assignment of the job and the work environment in relationship to the individual worker’s personal dispositions. When we examine those four elements, we find that they do indeed form a system that enables us to view, understand and manage human factors on the job. In fact, the elements can be assigned unifying positive and negative value in direct relationship to the dynamics that they represent in the control process. How the job is defined and how the job is assigned are both positive forces that tend to produce control, while the factors in the work environment and the personal dispositions of individuals that interact to produce an unwanted human behavior are negative dynamics affecting control. When the system becomes negatively unbalanced, it tips toward human error.

So fundamental and consistent are the principles and concepts in this new approach to human behavior analysis that you can walk away from this overview with a practical thinking process that you can immediately apply to your next occupational accident investigation or operations improvement activity.


The uniqueness of this analysis process is its simplicity and its straight forward concepts.

  • Unwanted human behavior on the job can be analyzed as a product of four elements: Requirement of the job, Assignment of the job, Inducements in the environment, and Dispositions of the individual. (Together they form the acronym RAID™)
  • Job requirement and job assignment tend to establish and unify control, while personal dispositions and environmental inducements tend to diminish unified control.
  • Unwanted human behavior can be viewed as a consequence of a purposeful decision, or an error or a response to an obstacle to proper behavior

Each concept provides tangible issues that can be identified, evaluated and quantified within the environmental context of the organization, and that can be used to represent factors and to depict their function within a causal system: (R + A) < (I + D).

Analysis Process

I am sharing this process because I believe that human factor analysis holds an immense potential for expanded prevention and control within organizations. A practical and simple analysis process that professionals in the trenches can begin to apply immediately in our country’s work environments will transform that potential into realization. The consequence will be safer, more reliable, more efficient, and more cost-effective operations. Detailed below is the step-by-step RAID™ Human Behavior Analysis Process as one might conduct the analysis without the utility of computer software.

  1. Express the problem in which an unwanted human behavior played a causal part.
  2. Express the unwanted human behavior that contributed to the problem.
  3. Determine if the human behavior was a purposeful decision, an error, or an action that could not be accomplished because of some obstacle. This is important because each initiating source of behavior requires a different path of inquiry. Note that some individuals may say that they forgot or can’t explain why they made a wrong decision or action. In these cases, it is best to conduct an analysis both as a violation of choice and as an error. In the case of errors, you will be looking for inducements that can be addressed to reduce the potential for unwanted behavior. Violations of choice invariably involve deeper seated dispositions or greater offending environments or both.
  4. State the expected job behavior, assess the status of control, and assess options for improvement.
  5. State how the assignment was made, assess the status of control, and assess options for improvement.
  6. Identify inducement and disposition pairs and assess potential for control. For example, a night shift worker may personally resent the fact that night shift employees are not trusted to have unsupervised access to the tool crib, and so he uses an inappropriate tool rather than going to his supervisor to have the tool crib unlocked every time he needs a particular tool. Inducement = locked tool crib on night shift, Disposition = resentment of not being trusted. The manner of resolve of the problem is not dictated by the concept. Rather the visibility of the inducement / disposition pairs provides a conceptual framework for assessing and determining best responses.
  7. Assess the breadth and degree of the inducements and dispositions. If inducements in the environment affect a large percentage of employees, a priority is established for focus

Examine Job Requirement. Are the requirements of the job spelled out clearly so that the individual can be expected to do a good job? Is the organization communicating the requirement, monitoring employee compliance and enforcing compliance consistently? If not, action here will help tip the balance positively.

Examine Job Assignment. Assignment of a job is a process. The nature and demands of the job should be matched to the individual, and the manner of assignment should be direct and clear. Inappropriate job demands upon the individual or indirect assignment suggests that action here will help tip the balance toward control.

Identify Inducement – Disposition Pairs. Pairing personal dispositions with inducements in the environment provides a way to perceive the causal significance of each in relationship to the other and helps to assess best options.

Inducements. In the environment there are many influences that affect how individuals feel and behave. Your analysis will focus upon any influences that work against proper behavior and that aggravate the personal dispositions of the individual. If you find that the individual’s behavior was a willful violation of procedure, you will want to explore what it was that tipped the person toward unwanted behavior. You will want to examine the job, the assignment and the environment for factors that induced the person’s decision. If you find that he made an error, you will be looking for inducements that permit or generate error, rather than just inducements associated with the person’s unique dispositions.

Dispositions. Each of us has our own set of feelings and dispositions. A person may be extremely sensitive to some issues, substances or situations. When the task and the individual come together, those personal dispositions may conflict with the work environment and the nature of the task. Finding strong dispositions targets particular elements in the environment as potential inducements.

How to improve the job requirement

Establishing a sustaining policy and procedure is tied to four elements. These are the REASON® Management Principles of Organizational Control (Copyright © Decision Systems, Inc. 1980):

  1. Establish and communicate Has the policy been formally established and communicated to whom it applies?
  2. Apply consistently where applicable Has the policy been applied to all areas, processes and personnel where appropriate?
  3. Establish and communicate monitoring Has a specific means of monitoring for compliance been established and communicated to all affected?
  4. Enforce based upon the monitoring Is the policy being enforced consistently based upon the results of the procedural monitoring? Have your employees been informed of how the policy is being enforced? Enforcement can be a reinforcing word of recognition, a pat on the back, or a disciplinary step.

Attention to these four issues deals with organizationally maximizing and sustaining the benefits of control over human performance.

Improving the job assignment

There are two main issues when dealing with assignment of tasks:

  1. The assignment should be direct and clear. If a supervisor says to his crew, “someone needs to make sure that the tool crib is locked at the end of shift” the assignment has not been direct and clear. Improved assignment in this case would be to assign the responsibility to a specific individual. Here too you should inform the individual that you will be monitoring and enforcing compliance because the responsibility is important.
  2. The individual should be matched to the task Physical and emotional characteristics of the individual should be assessed against the nature and demands of the task. As you become more aware of dispositions and traits, the more informed can be your assignments.

Improving the inducements

There are two levels at which you will want to view inducements:

  1. Individual As a part of your study of inducements, you will be viewing the environment in relationship to the individual dispositions of the person whose unwanted behavior played a causal role in some problem. Your end goal will be to produce a situation in which the Requirement and Assignment of the job outweigh any negative effect of Dispositions and Inducements; so you are first seeking ways to off-set, reduce or remove inducements in the work environment that can team with the person’s dispositions to provide an incentive for unwanted behavior. It might be a simple engineering solution, a process change or an organizational change.
  2. Group In many cases, when dealing with an individual’s response to a condition or element in the work environment, the personal sensitivity or disposition of the individual plays a major role in the unwanted behavior. However, as you explore ways to counter the effects of the inducement, you will also find many instances in which the dispositions of your entire work group are also sensitive to the same factor in the environment, perhaps to a lesser degree. So in all cases, you will want to examine and deal with inducements in the broadest sense in order to positively maximize the affect upon the performance. The key to progress here is to examine jobs and environments for such issues as fatigue, stress, temperature, lighting, proximity to equipment, complexity and so forth.

Improving the dispositions

The general rule is that the closer the activity is to the human, the less reliable will be the controls available to the organization. The rule applies here too. A personal disposition of the individual, especially when it is inconsistent with the norm, is usually not an easy issue to change. Sometimes professional counseling and training can help. Sometimes just focusing attention upon the unwanted behavior will help. But do not mistake an agreement to stop a particular behavior with a change in basic disposition. Normally, it will be easier for most organizations to reassign the individual, or change the environment, or turn the heat up on monitoring for compliance and enforcement.

Reducing the Risk of Unwanted Behavior

It is best to examine and assess the workplace environment, detect minor issues and early developing problems, and deal with them proactively before they interact to produce major problems. This philosophy is strongly repeated throughout process safety and risk management doctrine and standards.
Human factor analysis can be a powerful and easy tool for proactive applications to human performance. You have a perfect filter for rating the degree of risk associated with any operation that involves human performance. If you think that it is appropriate to caution the employee to be careful, in spite of his experience, training and skill, you have labeled the task a candidate for human factors attention. The filter establishes the fact and acknowledges that the performance of the individual is in his own hands. Be careful of what? Be careful in what way? Be careful when? Now we are getting to the first steps in human factor analysis.

Opportunities to Apply Human Behavior Analysis

Accident Investigation Accident investigations often provide human factors that can be a subject for a human behavior analysis.

Root Cause Analysis Formal root cause analysis approaches tend to uncover many human behavior causes as a part of the overall causal system.

Job Safety Analysis The proactive JSA process examines each step in a task. At each point where human performance is at issue, there is an opportunity to use human behavior analysis.

Trade Patterns Many trades and professions by the nature of their tasks attract individuals with sets of particular dispositions. For example, there are jobs that seem to appeal to risk takers, while other jobs appeal to persons who are uncomfortable with risk Some persons require attention to detail while others resist details. Some professionals like to get their hands into the work, while others distain grim. The analyst with access to experiential data or personal, inside knowledge of particular professions can put those perceptions and resources to work toward proactively improving the characteristic pairs of dispositions and inducements found within unique trades and professions.

Employee Involvement Another proactive potential, and one of your richest resources for applying human factor analysis to improve operations will be your employees. A safety or production meeting or an on-the-job interview can be directed toward identifying inducement and disposition pairs. For example, asking what the individual likes least about the job will usually elicit a focus upon some tangible inducement factor that can be associated with the environment or the process itself. When you ask why that aspect of the job aggravates the individual, the focus will tend to deal with dispositions. If the discussion is being held within a group of workers, it will soon be obvious whether or not the dispositions and inducements are shared among the group or unique to just the one individual.

HazOp Analysis While results of HazOp activity often center upon the physical: processes, materials, equipment, and environment, there are none-the-less instances when the human factor interfaces to compound the complexity of the systems that threaten to produce problems. The unique focus of environmental inducements and human disposition pairs provides another dimension for attention in this critical analysis of operations.

Performance Analysis One of the opportunities to produce broad and significant impact upon your safety, maintenance and quality program is to raise your focus to general level issues like policies and procedures.

As you begin to apply these concepts in your prevention and control responsibilities, you will find that the avenue to improvement is wide, fast and with many lanes. Simple strategies and actions can produce dramatic benefits. When you find things in the environment that are constantly working to persuade employees to take chances, or that are providing opportunities for employees to make mistakes, or that are placing inappropriate stresses on individuals, you have discovered inducements that are quietly waiting for the conflicting disposition of an individual to produce counter-quality events. Dealing proactively with these issues is an opportunity to produce significant and sustaining improvement in the performance of personnel, as well as in the safety and quality of operations. Having this focused technique to assess operations for human performance issues makes human behavior analysis easier, more practical and a lot more productive. You will find that with this easy analysis approach the activity is simple, fascinating and rewarding.

Copyright © 2005 Decision Systems, Inc
Please feel free to share this informational article. We ask that the copyright be observed and retained on all reprints and electronic copies, and that any quotes bear appropriate author credit.

Scott Alan Jones, Decision Systems, Inc.,

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