The vulnerability of rules in complex work environments: dynamism and uncertainty pose problems for cognition
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractMany complex work environments rely heavily on cognitive operators using rules. Operators sometimes fail to implement rules, with catastrophic human, social and economic costs. Rule-based error is widely reported, yet the mechanisms of rule vulnerability have received less attention. This paper examines rule vulnerability in the complex setting of airline transport operations. We examined ‘the stable approach criteria rule’, which acts as a system defence during the approach to land. The study experimentally tested whether system state complexity influenced rule failure. The results showed increased uncertainty and dynamism led to increased likelihood of rule failure. There was also an interaction effect, indicating complexity from different sources can combine to further constrain rule-based response. We discuss the results in relation to recent aircraft accidents and suggest that ‘rule-based error’ could be progressed to embrace rule vulnerability, fragility and failure. This better reflects the influence that system behaviour and cognitive variety have on rule-based response. Practitioner Summary: In this study, we examined mechanisms of rule vulnerability in the complex setting of airline transport operations. The results suggest work scenarios featuring high uncertainty and dynamism constrain rule-based response, leading to rules becoming vulnerable, fragile or failing completely. This has significant implications for rule-intensive, safety critical work environments.
CitationClewley, Richard, Stupple, Edward J.N. (2015) The vulnerability of rules in complex work environments: dynamism and uncertainty pose problems for cognition, Ergonomics, 58 (6):935