Human Factors Expert Witness On Common Sense

Human factors, a specialty of psychology and industrial engineering, focuses on the efficiency, safety, and comfort of things that people interact with at work or leisure. Human factors expert witness Dr. Robert C. Sugarman writes:

Typical forensic applications of human factors expertise are answering questions about human abilities and limitations for attention, memory, motivation, perception, movement, and strength. These questions often come up in the context of auto accidents, slip and fall, warnings and labels inadequacy, and industrial accidents. An area that is rapidly gaining attention is medical accidents, especially caused by device design errors.

A question posed to me during an industrial accident trial early in my career made me think about what we can know about another person. I was asked, “Don’t people have an obligation to protect themselves from danger?” I answered that the question is more a matter of philosophy and not within the domain of human factors. If people always protected themselves as a matter of obligation, no one would take on a job that was not inherently safe. That would include almost every occupation we depend on for our well being.

On the other hand, we all have the obligation not to put others in danger by designing or using unsafe work situations, including tools, equipment, and environmental factors. We should also be expected to obey rules and instructions that are provided to keep us safe. Sometimes people rely on common sense to guide other people into doing the right thing, but common sense is not common.

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