Safety in aviation and maritime domains has greatly improved over the years, but there is no room for complacency. This is especially the case as we approach systems with ever more automation and use of remote control in both industries. It is also more complicated because ‘human error’ is often seen as the root cause, when usually it is the system that leads people into mistakes, and seafarers and flight crew alike so often save the day. Accidents, incidents and near misses all offer us valuable lessons from which to improve safety, to do better next time. Yet in the aftermath of adverse events, the wish to blame someone, which makes sense of something that was never intended to happen, might make us lose sight of the real causes of accidents, leading to more tragedy and loss.
The key to learning is using the right tool with which to understand what happened and why. This means going beyond the surface ‘facts’ and suppositions, seeing beneath the ‘usual suspects’ of factors that yield little in terms of how to prevent the next one. The SHIELD (Safety Human Incident & Error Learning Database) taxonomy has been developed by reviewing a number of existing taxonomies - in this case, a set of related terms for describing human performance and error - to derive a means of objectively classifying events in a way that helps us develop safety countermeasures afterwards. Whilst it can analyse single events it is particularly insightful when looking - and learning - across related events