Sue Frantz

Common causes of human error: Discussion topic

Blog Post created by Sue Frantz on May 12, 2020

One area of psychology that gets short shrift in Intro Psych is human factors. I recently came across a set of twelve factors that can lead to errors in aviation maintenance that were identified in the 1990s by Transport Canada’s then Special Programs Coordinator Gordon Dupont. Dupont created posters that not only illustrated the errors but also listed ways to avoid making the errors. His “Dirty Dozen” have been expanded into applications in other areas of aviation. More information about each error can be found on the Skybrary website.


While there are many more factors that can contribute to workplace errors, this is as fine a list as any to start with.


Since these are excellent factors to keep in mind regardless of the task at hand, students can get practice using Dupont’s “Dirty Dozen” by first applying the concepts to their schoolwork.


Asks students to get into small groups. Give each group three or four of the following factors:


  1. Lack of communication: “Failure to transmit, receive, or provide enough information to complete a task. Never assume anything.”
  2. Complacency: “Overconfidence from repeated experience performing a task.”
  3. Lack of knowledge: “Shortage of the training, information, and/or ability to successfully perform.”
  4. Distraction: “Anything that draws your attention away from the task at hand.”
  5. Lack of teamwork: “Failure to work together to complete a shared goal.”
  6. Fatigue: “Physical or mental exhaustion threatening work performance.”
  7. Lack of resources: “Not having enough people, equipment, documentation, time, parts, etc., to complete a task.”
  8. Pressure: “Real or perceived forces demanding high-level job performance.”
  9. Lack of assertiveness: “Failure to speak up or document concerns about instructions, orders, or the actions of others.”
  10. Stress: “A physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes physical or mental tension.”
  11. Lack of awareness: “Failure to recognize a situation, understand what it is, and predict the possible results.”
  12. Norms: “Expected, yet unwritten, rules of behavior.”


Instructions to student groups:


You have been given a set of factors that are known to contribute to making mistakes.

  • For each factor, identify how it can affect the quality of your school work.
  • For each factor, identify at least two things you can do to avoid falling into that trap.


After students have finished their discussion, you can bring the class back together to share their responses with the entire class, or you can do a jigsaw classroom by creating new groups comprised of at least one person from the original groups with students sharing what their group created with the others in their new group.


If you’d like to expand this to a take-home assignment, ask students to think about a job they have now, they have had previously, or that they plan to have, and identify how these twelve factors can affect the quality of their work and at least two things they can do to avoid each one.


If you do this discussion or assignment at the end-of-term, consider asking your students to identify which Intro Psych chapter each factor best aligns with.