Avoiding Human Error in Engineering and Construction

While human error is a fact of life, it doesn’t need to be an uncontrollable one. There are many things you can do to limit the damage of workplace human error. This is particularly important in the construction and engineering sector, where human error can cause project delays or worse.

In order to address and manage human error in the workplace, businesses must consider both the human and technological aspects of the issue.

The Skill-Rule-Knowledge Model

This is one of the most tried-and-tested methods for controlling human error. As the name suggests, this model is comprised of three elements:

  • Skill — the point in which an activity becomes second nature, without a need for active thought.
  • Rule — the act of following demonstrated guides.
  • Knowledge — the need for training so a worker can identify and respond to risks.

Even with these processes in place, the unpredictable element remains: people. People have lapses in judgment, a bad day in the office or distracted for a second that results in the whole process changing in an instant. However, technology has come a long way and now that variable can be reduced further to continue in reducing risk with tool innovations.

The value of moving to automated processes

Controlled Bolting

Engineering is benefiting from new technology, as so many sectors are. There have been many advances in recent years that, primarily, focus on shifting processes from the hands of people to the hands of machines. There is also a middle ground, where machines aid people and make processes safer by eliminating the likelihood of an injury occurring. This is done by allowing the worker to stand at a safe distance while mechanisms are moving. For example, controlled bolting is a much safer process compared to manual bolt tightening.

Manual processes take longer, meaning people work longer and become tired. Tiredness then leads to mistakes. By using a more controlled process like hydraulic torque wrenches, the process of loosening and tightening bolts is not only much faster, but safer for workers than a physical, manual process.

Technical Director at HTL Group, Bob Fogerty, explained the benefits of controlled bolting, saying, “Controlled bolting is a perfect example of innovative technology that lowers risk in the workplace, providing the people are properly trained by professionals. It is up to employers to ensure that all operators undergo the appropriate technical training, to certify them as highly-skilled and knowledgeable in all aspects of controlled bolting.”

This is a great example of Skill-Rule-Knowledge being used in practice.


In the same way, the construction sector has benefited from automation in the form of drones. Despite the sector’s reputation for being slow in picking up new technology, between 2018 and 2019 the industry saw a 239% increase in the use of drones in the workplace. It’s no surprise either, given the technology can be used across several areas within construction, including land surveying, waste monitoring, and security improvements. These machines can also be deployed into areas that would otherwise prove a risk to workers, such as high altitudes or uneven terrain. After all, a broken drone can be replaced!

With health and safety becoming ever more important, companies must look to keep risks at a minimum. With a focus on how technology can reduce the human element of error, the construction and engineering sector is adapting to technology.


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