We interrupt this broadcast to give you a Special Report on the Error Epidemic with Sarah Wiseman, CBN News.
News Reader: “A startling rise in human error has caused panic across the globe. The Prime Minister has called for calm as an emergency meeting of the Cobra Group has been called – plans for military intervention have been denied. Amidst this on-going enquiry we have received reports that people have cancelled their flights, medical treatment and stockpiled supplies as fears grow about the rise of ‘human error’.
News Reader: “What has caused this phenomena? Why has it happened now? What can be done about it so we feel safe on our streets again?
News Reader: “We sent our field reporter Sandy Gould to UCL to find out more”
[Break to field reporter.]
Reporter: “Whether you’re a patient waiting for surgery, someone getting on a flight, or if you live near a nuclear power plant, the rise in human error is striking fear into the lives of people. Young or old, rich or poor, stupid or clever, the rise in human error is worrying and has led to what some experts have called a global ‘Error Epidemic’.
Reporter: “We’ve come to UCL to talk to scientists that study human error. Their system: “The Errordiary” has played a key role in revealing this developing epidemic. We asked them: “What has caused this phenomena? Why now? What can be done about it?”
[Cut to previously recorded interview with Dr Anna Cox Human Error Scientist]
Reporter: “Members of the public want to know why there has been a sudden rise in the rate of error. Do you have an explanation for this frightening phenomena?”
Dr Anna Cox: “Could you clarify by what you mean by ‘rise in error’?”
Reporter: “People are becoming more and more concerned by the errors that are happening globally, is it true that our brains have been affected by some passing solar radiation, or is this phenomena here to stay? Or… could it get worse?”
Dr Anna Cox: “I still don’t follow”
Reporter: “Errordiary! There are loads and loads of errors being reported globally. Human errors are sweeping the globe. Your system ‘The Errordiary’ has been instrumental in bringing this to light. We deserve an explanation.”
Dr Anna Cox: “Look… there’s no evidence that human error is rising. Errordiary just provides an online forum where people can share the errors that they’ve always made.
“There is a big difference between error being reported more frequently, which heightens people’s awareness of it, and an actual rise in error. People should understand this. Errors aren’t rising. The reporting of error is rising.”
[Cut to previously recorded interview with Prof Blandford Human Error Scientist]
Reporter: “We’ve heard some startling evidence of the worrying rise in error. What can be done about it?”
Prof Blandford: “To be clear, I’m really not sure there is an actual rise in human error. But there are things we can do to reduce error and its potential impact: we can change the conditions that people work in to reduce the likelihood of error, we can design technology to be more user-friendly, people can create resilience strategies, we can have better monitoring like doing double checks, and we can have extra safety precautions like back-up systems so if something does fail we can compensate for it.”
Reporter: “So do these changes that you suggest solve the problem of people getting more stupid?”
Prof Blandford: “I wouldn’t use the term ‘stupid’… but yes, people having a lack of knowledge or being inattentive so they miss bits of information can affect human error. This can be helped through training BUT this is not the whole story! Sometimes highly knowledgeable and motivated people still make errors. For example, even highly trained surgeons and pilots that are far cleverer than you or I will make errors, so we might ask ourselves: what is going on here? The true answer is that we need to look at each incident on a case by case basis, BUT:
1. We know that where technology is not usable people are more likely to make errors, for example a nurse accidently unplugged a life support machine but couldn’t turn it back on – Why could it be switched off so easily? Why wasn’t it easier to restart?
2. We know that there can be other things in the wider environment that can be changed to reduce the likelihood of error, e.g. people might be overworked and tired, they might be rushed to do things, and the job might not be designed to get the best out of people. Is it really the workers fault if they are not managed properly?
3. We know that people are generally not ‘stupid’ and in fact we have found that they can be creative and inventive to develop ‘resilience strategies’ to be resilient to human error, e.g. imagine someone leaving an umbrella by the front door so they don’t forget it, or setting an alarm on their phone so they don’t miss an appointment.
Reporter – moment of self reflection: “Hhhhmm… so like me rehearsing my questions and lines for this interview is a resilience strategy?”
Prof Blandford: “Yes, that’s a good example. You know you might make an error by forgetting your questions and lines so you rehearse them to be resilient against this particular error.”
Reporter: “Right… Thank-you”
[Cut back to live video of the reporter]
Reporter: “So there we have it. Scientists believe that the error epidemic is a rise in the reporting of error, not an actual rise in error. The story behind what contributes to an error also should include the role of technology and how the broader system is managed. We have learnt that people can develop strategies to make them more resilient against human error too. We’ll continue to bring you news as the Error Epidemic unfolds.
Sandy Gould, live from UCL.”
[Cut back to studio]
News Reader: “That was Sandy Gould reporting live from UCL. This has been Sarah Wiseman bringing you a Special Report on the dramatic developments on the Error Epidemic.”
[Camera zooms out, news reader shuffles papers, cuts to CBN news logo]