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IT Human Factors

The term human factor is used in many fields of study because of the human involvement in these factors. However the general meaning of human factor is the study of all aspects of human behavior and how they relate to the surrounding world. This study is aimed at improving performance in operations and safety. As far as technology is concerned, the term human factors may be seen to refer to the study of factors distinct only to human e. g. cognitive properties and social behaviors which influence the working and functioning of technology.

In design, the human factors are considered. For example, before one designs, he/she should consider the capabilities and limitations of those that you are designing for. As these considerations are made, one assumption is usually used and that is: that all users share common capabilities. However, it is important to note the fact that there are other individuals with differences which need not be ignored during design. Some of the human factors considered in design include: perception, memory, response time, handedness (left or right), attention, cognition, movement etc.

All these are considered before design to ensure that the end product is workable and performs according to plan (Carey, 1996:

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pp. 28-32). This paper seeks to outline and justify three specific recommendations for a mediated communication system to be used in a safety critical work setting such as ambulance control or air traffic control. A number of considerations need to be made before toe installation of Computer Mediated Communication systems in a security critical context.

Some of these considerations may be used to draw recommendations that if followed, the security as the ultimate desired goal in a security critical scenario will be maintained and guaranteed. The user interface is one very important thing that needs to be considered. If a computer mediated system fails, it can do so because of two major reasons: software failure and operator’s plunder as a result of poorly designed user interfaces (Thimbleby, 1990: pp4-12).

The safety critical computer system is often defined as the computer electronic or electromechanical system which if it fails it caused=s injury or death of human beings. Most of the accidents that have occurred in the past e. g. the 1989 British Midland plane crash, the main problem is not software failure but rather the failure to support efficient user interaction with the system often caused by poor interface design. For instance, the plane crash named above was caused by pilots shutting down the only operational functions a plunder to which the poor interface design in the cockpit contributed to a lot.

Therefore, based on this very strong observation it is suggested that instead of forcing extra rules down the throats of the system operators, it is only important to emphasize the installation of properly designed interfaces which will support the avoidance of such hazards (Fields et al, 1999: pp 396-8). This is necessary because, any poorly designed interface leads to a situation where an operator’s operational plunder may inadvertently lead to a catastrophically hazardous outcome (Leveson, 1995: pp125-7).

A safe interface is not possible if the hazard identification has not been done and the risk associated with the system hazard consequently analyzed. This is specifically important because if you have to secure any system, you need to first understand the probability that the system hazards may cause accidents such that the security guarantee in the security critical system is installed to mitigate possible accidents.

For instance, if an organization sets out to install a safety critical system of a life support machine in its ambulance, it is important to understand that it is their responsibility just the same way as it is the responsibility to ensure that security is guaranteed when using the security critical system which often happens to be computer mediated. The responsibility of the management of the organization is to ensure that the contractor undertakes a safety management program as required for all the mediated systems that contain the safety critical elements.

The contractor on the other hand will make sure that the program is completed elaborately and in a more detailed manner. A number of steps that need to be undertaken by the contractor during the safety program should give forth the following deliverables: Reference of the computer mediated communication system in the security critical context giving the description and the function definition of the system. List of accident sequences and their respective probabilities List of system hazards contributory to the possible accidents thus assigning respective probabilities for each system hazard thereby reducing accident risks to manageable levels

List of system’s safety requirements to counter the hazards Documentation of all procedures and results of the hazard identification and risk and risk analysis so as to include these in the system’s safety case Generally, an elaborate and efficient risk analysis and assessment procedures are necessary to mitigate the possible accidents. This therefore means that the safety guarantees of the mediated systems in a security critical context, lies not only with the intended users but also, to a grater degree, the contractor designing and installing the system (Lindsay, 2001: pp35-7).

The last, but not least, very important recommendation ids the fact that the mediated security critical system should take care of the two major objectives of computer mediated systems. These major objectives are the enhancement of efficiency in work operations and reduction of work related stress. Therefore, if such a system creates stress it underscores its very functionality; it kills the vey reason of its existence. For instance, the components of a Computer Mediated Communication system that can be used in a security critical context such as the ambulance include formats such as SMS, e-mail, instant messaging, etc.

these information formats replace the voice communication and these are advantageous because they help in maintaining the fidelity of the message in that the textual communication is no longer affected by the ephemeral nature of verbal utterances. These components of the system may also enable communication to be conducted asynchronously i. e. not affected by the surrounding noises or other interferences. Further, it is possible that these formats can be integrated with other computer based data (McQuail, 2005).

These advantages are specifically necessary for the efficiency of a computer mediated security critical communication system especially in an ambulance. However, care must be taken because computer mediated communication systems are associated with things like deception and lying, behavior, impression formation, disinhibition and relationship formation. Further, some aspects such as persistence or recordability, synchronicity and anonymity need also some degree of consideration before a major decision to apply CMC systems in a security critical context.

For instance, instant messaging may not be used because though synchronous it lacks persistence or recordability and therefore one is likely to lose content the moment he/she closes the active dialog box and therefore there is need for manual copy-paste the conversation which is likely to bring about stress (Hartson, 1992: p. 128). However, if a message log set up is connected to automatically save the conversation, then instant messaging is the best as opposed to the E-mail and message boards which though highly persistent their synchronicity is relatively low since response time varies.

Generally, the choice of the CMC communication system should bear in mind the usability, efficiency and propriety to maintain security in the security critical context in which the CMC system is used. References Carey, Jane. Human Factors in Information Systems Intellect Books Publishers, 1996, pp. 28-32 Fields et al, (1999): Comparing Design and Options for Allocating Communication Media in Cooperative Safety –Critical Contexts- A Method and A Case Study, ACM Publishers, pp 370-398 Rautenberg et al, (2003): human Computer Interaction, IOS Press, pp264-271 Thimbleby, Harold. User Interface Design ACM Press, 1990 pp.

4-12 Leveson NG, (1995): Software System Safety and Computers, Addison-Wesley Publishers, pp125-7 Lindsay AP, (2001): Improved Acquisition Processes for Safety –Critical systems in Australian Department of Defense, Australian Computer Society. Pp35-7 Brown, Marlin. Human-Computer Interface Design Guidelines Intellect Books, 1998, pp. 86-9 Hartson, Rex Advances in human-computer interaction Intellect Books, 1992, p. 128 Mandel, Theo. The Elements of User Interface Design Wiley & Sons Publishers, 1997, p. 320 (Hartson, 1992: p. 128) McQuail, (2005): Mcquail’s Mass Communication Theory, London: SAGE Publications

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