Last Updated S012019

MSR 504

Unit Code MSR504
Unit Duration 1 Term (online) or 1 Semester (on-campus) 

Graduate Diploma of Engineering (Safety, Risk and Reliability)

Duration: 1 year

Master of Engineering (Safety, Risk and Reliability)

Duration: 2 years

Year Level One
Unit Creator / Reviewer Mark Andrew
Core/Elective: Core
Pre/Co-requisites Nil
Credit Points


Grad Dip total course credit points = 24

(3 credits x 8 (units))

Masters total course credit points = 48

(12 credits (Thesis) + 3 credits x 12 (units))

Mode of Delivery

Online or on-campus.

Combination of modes: Online synchronous lectures; asynchronous discussion groups, videos, remote and cloud-based labs (simulations); web and video conferencing tutorials. High emphasis on personal and group self-study.

Unit Workload

Total student workload including “contact hours”=10 hours per week:

Lecture - 1 hour

Tutorial Lecture - 1 hour

Practical / Lab - 1 hour (if applicable)

Personal Study recommended - 7 hours

Unit Description and General Aims

The unit introduces engineers to Human Factors Engineering and its impact on major hazard facilities, other industrial facilities and public domains such as transport and health care. Recent accident investigations have revealed that whilst people by their actions or inactions precipitated the accident, systemic management and design failures have ‘set up’ the preconditions for the accident.

HSE UK has identified the following top ten Human Factor’s issues:

  • Organisational change and transition management
  • De-Manning and staffing levels
  • Training, competence and effective supervision
  • Fatigue from shift work and overtime
  • Alarm handling
  • Compliance with safety critical procedures
  • Safety culture
  • Communications (e.g., shift handover)
  • Ergonomics (design of interfaces)
  • Maintenance error                     

Whilst HSE UK findings are based on Offshore Oil and Gas industries, these are somewhat applicable to all other process industries.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this Unit, students are expected to be able to:

1. Apply Human Factors knowledge and skills during design stages of a project and thus optimize the chances of sound human performance during operations.

2. Apply Human Factors knowledge and skills to aspects of maintenance planning and configuration, thus optimizing the chances of safe and efficient maintenance practices.

3. Apply Human Factors knowledge and skills to the development of workforce planning and organizational factors, to account for aspects such as fatigue, groupwork, team communications and crew resource management.

4. Apply Human Factors knowledge and skills when completing incident / accident investigations.

5. Appreciate specialist Human Factors knowledge and skills required for performing specialized tasks.

Student assessment

Assessment Type

(e.g. Assignment - 2000 word essay (specify topic) Examination (specify length and format))

When assessed

(eg Week 5)

Weighting (% of total unit marks) Learning Outcomes Assessed

Assessment 1

Type: Quiz

Word length: n/a

Topic: Key aspects of human capabilities and limitations, both physical and cognitive.  

Week 5   20% 1, 2

Assessment 2 - mid-semester test

Type: Report (Midterm Project)

[This will include a progress report; literature review, hypothesis, and methodology / conclusions]

Word length: 1000

Topic: An example high reliability workplace with task analysis showing design considerations.  

Week 8  25% 1, 2, 3

Assessment 3

Assessment 3

Type: Report (Final Project)

[If a continuation of the midterm, this should complete the report by adding sections on: methodology, implementation / evaluation, verification / validation, conclusion / challenges and recommendations / future work. If this is a new report, all headings from the midterm and the final reports must be included.]

Word length: 2000

Topic: Example of a Human Factors Integration Plan for a major infrastructure project (contents listing with examples for each heading).    

 Week 12 35% 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Practical Participation

Public domain search for five examples of poor Human Factors workplace design issues, with analysis as to solutions for improvement.   

Continuous 15%  1, 2

Class Participation


Continuous 5% 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


Prescribed and Recommended readings

Required Textbook

 J. Reason, Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 1997 

Optional / additional material

  • J. Reason, Human Error, Cambridge University Press,1995 
  • D. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, The MIT Press, 2013

All available from Amazon.

  • OGP, Human factors in engineering projects (Report 454)
  • OGP, Cognitive issues associated with process safety and environmental incidents (Report 460)
  • J. Bell and J. Holroyd, Review of Human Reliability Assessment Methods, report RR679, Health & Safety Executive, 2009 
  • BS EN ISO 13407:1999. 'Human-centred design processes for interactive systems'
  • BS ISO/IEC 15288:2002. 'Systems engineering - system life cycle processes'
  • ISO/PAS 18152:2003. 'Ergonomics of human-system interaction-specification for assessment of human-system issues' 

Reference Materials

Unit Content

One topic is delivered per contact week, with the exception of part-time 24-week units, where one topic is delivered every  two week.


Topic 1

Human capabilities and limitations

1. Physical capabilities and limitations (e.g. reach, clearance, strength, dexterity and endurance)

2. Senses capacities and limitations (e.g. perception, vision, auditory, haptic, heat, thermoregulation and proprioception)

3. Cognitive capabilities and limitations (e.g. attention, memory, vigilance, recall versus recognition, pattern spotting versus monitoring)

4. Individual differences and implications for design (why designs should not be for ‘the average’)

Topic 2

Performance in teams

1. Team tasks and task performance definitions (e.g. speed-error trade-off functions, the Yerkes-Dodson law, and the rule of 5 +/- 2 information bits)

2. Individual and group reliability (e.g. Information limits, Shannon’s information laws, Fitts’ list)

3. Whole-of-life asset factors (design, build, operate, maintain) for stakeholders; stakeholder definition in terms of different user groups and user needs analysis

Topic 3

Organisational dynamics

1. Command and control firms – hierarchical work (e.g. production lines for early Fords)

2. Socio-technical systems theory and distributed/autonomous team structures (the Kalmar model from Volvo)

3. Complexity theory and high technologies / high reliability industries (e.g. air traffic control)

4. Continual closed-loop learning through incident review and ‘lessons learned’ processes

Topic 4

Work Analysis

1. Task analysis (tools and approaches)

2. Work domain analysis

3. Cognitive work analysis

4. Workload Assessment (e.g. The NASA Task Load Index TLX Tool) and limits to work load, distribution and resource planning

Topic 5

Human and Organisation Error

1. Human Error as a pejorative, individual failure (and why this view is counter-productive)

2. Human Error as an inevitable performance variability function (and the utility of this view)

3. The importance and need of error as a continual development and learning factor

Topic 6

Limits to high performance

1. Individual factors (fatigue, monotony, monitoring tasks)

2. Systematic bias and heuristics: latency effect, recency effect, inherent bias, base-rate fallacy, framing effects, anchoring bias, risk homeostasis bias, availability heuristic etc.

3. Group factors (team communications and interpretations, attention, memory, perceptual challenges)

4. Violations and sabotage; motives from outside the organisational ethic


Topic 7

Human Reliability Analysis

1. Reliability as a function of human performance

2. Human Reliability Assessment tools (HEART, SHERPA, THERP)

3. Limitations of retrospective assessment tools, and their utility in design


Topic 8

Specialist Human Factors (such as Control Room design and High Reliability Operations design, such as nuclear, aerospace and remote-control operations (e.g. autonomous tasking of military drones).)

1. Situational Awareness

2. Crew Resource Management

3. Confidential Incident Report Systems (e.g. from aviation and medicine)

4. Fatigue and sleep research

5. Extreme working (deep sea diving, high altitude, high heat work, extreme cold work, long duration work such as long operations)

6. Control room design (including distributed command and control, process control factors associated with action-lag, delayed response characteristics and poor symbol state representations such as evidenced in Three Mile Island solenoid status)

7. User interface design, and usability testing, verification and validation

Topic 9

Contributing Factors Frameworks

1. Holistic event and incident data collection and systemic factor analysis

2. Management errors and their extreme latency and disguise

3. Regulatory errors, and their systemic camouflage (E.g. the societal impact of Longford was camouflaged regulatory error)

Topic 10

Human Factors Integration

1. Human Factors as a vital part of overall project management

2. Human Factors Integration components and their planning

3. Asset Life Cycle integration with Design Thinking: acquisition, procurement, specification, design, operability, interoperability, maintainability, testing (V&V), transition management, configuration control, change management

4. Safety-in-Design studies and Human Factors Integration

Topic 11 and 12

Project and Unit Review In the final two weeks students will have an opportunity to review the contents covered so far. Opportunity will be provided for a review of student work and to clarify any outstanding issues. Instructors/facilitators may choose to cover a specialized topic if applicable to that cohort.

Project – due at end of term