A step change in healthcare safety

Human Factors Ergonomics research is improving international healthcare safety

Marking the inaugural World Patient Safety Day (September 2019), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “No one should be harmed while receiving health care. And yet, globally, at least five patients die every minute because of unsafe care.”

In a bid to address this alarming statistic, our research is being used to implement systematic changes in occupational wellbeing and patient safety practice worldwide whilst impacting international standards and the design of medical products and facilities.

Our impact

Systematic top-down approach

  • Changes to government policy
  • Revised operational practice worldwide
  • Enhanced day-to-day safety for patients and practitioners
  • Safer hospital facilities and ambulances

Sharing good practice

The research

Our research initially focused on occupational safety for clinicians in the UK, exploring their exposure to the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.

An EU collaboration followed, investigating the risk factors for patient handling systems – one of the first examples of a Human Factors Ergonomics (HFE) approach to both staff and patient safety. This work underpins, for example, ISO TR 12296 which informs practice worldwide.

We have also examined equipment design (including hospital beds and patient hoists) and healthcare building guidance (spanning a range of acute facility environments). This work – which drew on clinical expertise – now informs international guidance on both products and the optimal safe layout of hospital spaces.

In 2015, we delivered HFE training workshops to healthcare staff across the UK, collecting data about challenges to patient safety, and discovered considerable gaps in healthcare safety systems. This research is supporting the development of national guidance and clinical training whilst influencing an international audience via our dedicated practitioner Hub.

In October 2018, drawing on our expertise, CIEHF launched the white paper - Human Factors for Health & Social Care - which provides guidance around the embedding of sustainable system-level improvements for patients and staff within healthcare settings.

The White Paper enabled a better understanding, and supported the foundation for change that we have built into the National Patient Safety Strategy for the NHS.

Dr Frances Healey Deputy Director of Patient Safety (Insight) - NHS England & NHS Improvement

Our work has positively impacted practice across 120 countries

Research funders

  • Department of Health
  • National Health Service
  • Health and Safety Executive
  • The Health Foundation
  • Carton Hayes Mental Health Charity
  • Health Education England

Development partners

  • Royal College of Nursing
  • Royal College of Midwifery
  • Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
  • NHS Education for Scotland
  • Academic Health Service Network Patient Safety Collaborative

Meet the experts

Photograph of Sue Hignett

Professor Sue Hignett

Professor of Healthcare Ergonomics and Patient Safety

Photograph of Mike Fray

Dr Mike Fray

Senior Lecturer in Human Factors Design

Photograph of Dr Gyuchan Thomas Jun

Dr Gyuchan Thomas Jun

Senior Lecturer in Human Factors and Complex Systems


Our Human Factors & Ergonomics in Health & Social Care Hub is an accredited training service, offering professional short courses for all staff as well as technical training for Patient Safety Specialists, including PGCert and MSc qualifications.

We are currently negotiating a contract with Health Education England which would make our training available to more than 1.5 million NHS staff.