An important area of our research focuses on risk and human behaviour in safety critical work environments.

The Human Factor in Agriculture

Agriculture is a high risk industry, associated with a disproportionately high number of fatalities each year:  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that each week approximately one worker dies as a result of farming activities.  Farming hazards include working at height, operating heavy machinery and working with livestock.  Injuries associated with these hazards can include fractures, head injuries, crushing injuries and amputation.  In addition to this farmers often work alone which has associated risks, including a lack of help if problems occur. 

Dr Amy Irwin has been conducting research to assess non-technical skills (social and cognitive skills linked to safe and effective performance at work) in agriculture since 2015, with the aim of eventually developing training, similar to that used in aviation, to enhance those skills in farmers.  The initial research identified team-based and lone-worker non-technical skills relevant to farming.  This was followed by research to examine farmer attitudes towards non-technical skills, and perception of the risks associated with operating a tractor.

This research has been shared with key agricultural stakeholders including the HSE, the National Farmers Union (NFU), the Farm Safety Foundation and the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).  In collaboration with those organisations a non-technical skills workshop was held on April 26th, 2018.  The workshop featured presentations about non-technical skills in aviation, offshore drilling and farming (click here to listen to the recorded presentations: Following the workshop, collaborative projects with Lantra, the Scottish Government and the Farm Safety Foundation are being developed.


Relevant publications:

Irwin, A. & Poots, J. (2018). Investigation of UK farmer go / no-go decisions in response to tractor-based risk scenarios. Journal of Agromedicine, 23, 154-165.

Irwin, A. & Poots, J. (2017). Predictors of attitudes towards non-technical skills in farming. Journal of Agromedicine. DOI: 10.1080/1059924X.2017.1384775

Irwin, A. & Poots, J. (2015). The human factor in agriculture: an interview study to identify farmers' non-technical skills. Safety Science, 74, 114-121. DOI: 10.1016/j.ssci.2014.12.008

Making surgery safer

Making surgery safer: non-technical skills of anaesthetists, surgeons, and operating room nurses

The operating theatre is a high-risk domain. Effective, safe anaesthesia and surgery require competence in both clinical skills and in non-technical skills, such as communication and teamwork. Unlike other potentially hazardous occupations (e.g. in aviation), non-technical skills have not been specifically addressed by the medical professions. Patient safety research by Professor Flin and colleagues revealed that failures in these skills are a common healthcare risk. 

Based on her involvement in research into the non-technical skills of airline pilots, Professor Flin led a series of multidisciplinary studies, at the University of Aberdeen, designed to identify and evaluate non-technical skills for operating theatre staff.

The research was applied to the work of anaesthetists, surgeons and other medical practitioners and its results have been incorporated into professional standards in several countries. The findings are being incorporated into the curriculum for UK surgical training (Intercollegiate Surgical Curriculum Programme - ISCP) in all surgical specialities.

Key publications

  • Flin, R., Youngson, G. & Yule, S. (2015) (Eds.) Enhancing Surgical Performance. A Primer on Non-Technical Skills . London: CRC Press.
  • Fletcher, G, Flin, R, McGeorge, P, Glavin, R, Maran, N, & Patey, R. (2003). Anaesthetists' Non-Technical Skills (ANTS): Evaluation of a behavioural marker system. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 90 (5), 580 - 588.
  • Flin, R, Fletcher, G, McGeorge, P, Sutherland, A & Patey, R. (2003) Anaesthetists’ attitudes to teamwork and safety. Anaesthesia, 58, 233-242.
  • Yule, S, Flin, R, Maran, N & Paterson-Brown, S. (2006). Non-technical skills for surgeons in the operating room: A review of the literature. Surgery, 139, 140-149.
  • Yule, S, Flin, R, Paterson-Brown, S, & Maran, N. (2006). Development of a rating system for surgeons’ non-technical skills. Medical Education, 40, 1089-1044.
  • Yule, S, Flin, R, Maran, N, Rowley, D R, Youngson, G & Paterson-Brown, S. (2008). Surgeons' non-technical skills in the operating room: Reliability testing of the NOTSS behaviour rating system. World Journal of Surgery, 32, 548-556.
  • Mitchell, L, Flin, R, Mitchell, J, Coutts, K. & Youngson, G. (2012). Evaluation of the Scrub Practitioners' List of Intraoperative Non-Technical Skills (SPLINTS) system. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 49, 201-211.