Applied Psychology and Human Factors

Applied Psychology and Human Factors

In addition, the Applied Psychology and Human Factors Group investigates the application of psychology in the fields of human factors, clinical psychology and pedagogical research.

Our research activities are funded by various Medical Charities, industrial partners and Research Councils, including the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the European Research Council (ERC).

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

Safety in Flight

Helicopters can fly lower, require less ground infrastructure, and can access more remote terrain than most other types of aircraft.  This makes them ideal for a variety of high-risk mission types such as offshore transport and search rescue.  However, there have been concerns about helicopter safety after incidents such as the Super Puma helicopter crash in 2013, which killed four of the sixteen offshore passengers onboard.  As a result of this, and other incidents, the helicopter accident rate is the focus of governing bodies such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which investigated offshore helicopter flights after a spate of accidents (25 accidents between 1992-2013).

A key element of flight safety is training in non-technical skills (NTS) – the social (teamwork, communication, leadership) and cognitive (situation awareness, decision-making) skills.  Training and assessment in these skills in mandatory for pilots, including helicopter pilots.  However, despite the importance of these skills very little research has examined the factors that might influence these skills during flight.  The APHF team (including Dr Amy Irwin, Prof Rhona Flin and PhD students Oliver Hamlet and Anna Kaminska) have been undertaking research in three key areas to address this:

  • The influence of mission type on safety critical skills, specifically we have been investigating the emphasis on different non-technical skills across two key flight types: offshore transport, search and rescue.
  • The influence of individual and environmental factors on non-technical skill performance. To date our research has identified seven key factors that might influence performance: environmental, workload, state of other NTS, personal, mission related, crew related, organisational.
  • The influence of culture (national, professional, organisational) on crew resource management training and non-technical skill performance.

The team are in the process of developing practical tools to support use of the research findings in practice.

To learn more you can follow us on twitter (@APHFAberdeen), take a look at our research website ( and take a look through the media and academic articles below:


Energy voice article:

University of Aberdeen news:

Applied Psychology Press & Journal article:


Hamlet, O., Irwin, A. & McGregor, M. (in press). Is it all about the mission? Comparing non-technical skills across offshore transport and search and rescue helicopter pilots. International Journal of Aerospace Psychology. Preprint:

Hamlet, O., Irwin, A., Flin, R. & Thomson, G. (2019). An exploratory focus group study of factors influencing helicopter pilots’ non-technical skills. Conference proceedings, Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors.

The Human Factor in Agriculture

Agriculture is currently the most high risk occupation in the UK, associated with a fatality rate that is 18 times higher than the average rate across all industries (as reported by the HSE) including construction.  The fatality rate across agriculture has been consistently high for the past ten years, despite efforts by organisations such as the HSE and IOSH rural to enhance worker safety.  Farm hazards include working at height, operating heavy machinery (including tractors and combines) and handling livestock.  Farming is also associated with long hours, a high level of stress and lone working, all of which could potentially increase risk level.

Dr Amy Irwin and her team (including PhD student Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone) have been conducting behavioural research examining safety critical skills in farming since 2015.  The aim of this research is to understand the skills necessary for safe and effective farm practice (including social skills such as teamwork and cognitive skills such as decision-making), and to produce practical tools and training aids to enhance the development of these skills in farmers and farm workers.

The research has been shared with key agricultural stakeholders such as IOSH rural, the Farm Safety Foundation, Lantra and the NFU, with multiple collaborations as a result.  To date the research has lead to the development of an online course hosted by Lantra, a tractor checklist, a pocket guide to safety and multiple safety leaflets.  You can view, and download, all of these tools and more via our dedicated NTSAG webpage:, follow us on twitter @NTS_Ag or find out more about our various projects via the media links below.


University of Aberdeen: 

Lantra non-technical skills online course:

Farmers Guardian article:

BBC News:

Press and Journal article:

IOSH presentation:


Irwin, A., Caruso, L., & Tone, I. (2019). Thinking ahead of the tractor: driver safety and situation awareness. Journal of Agromedicine, 288-297.

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