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What Does a Human Factors Expert Do?

Human factors experts can be called upon to testify in court.
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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2014
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When analysis of human behavior is needed in a professional setting, a human factors expert is often consulted. He or she is specially trained in engineering and psychology to assess how humans interact with each other and the world. While human factors experts often work in legal proceedings, they are also helpful in other areas, such as insurance operations research or industrial design.

Experts on human behavior typically hold doctorate degrees. They have extensive background in the sciences, especially psychology, sociology, engineering, and other areas. Linguistics, pathology, and criminology are also often used by human behavior experts. To be considered credible experts, they also usually have many papers, books, or other materials published.

Also known as a human factors consultant or human factors engineer, this type of expert may be required in a variety of settings. When working with insurance companies, he or she may help assess customer risk and vehicle safety. A government human factors expert might work with a city engineering team to help build the safest buildings and travel systems possible. Companies that need to reassess safety issues may also hire a human factors expert to help show them how to create a safer work environment.

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Human factors experts called in to testify in legal proceedings can also vary in their expertise. They may help explain human behavior in relation to personal injury cases, murder trials, and any other matters requiring scientific knowledge. These scientists may testify on basic components of a case, such as the perception of an eyewitness during a police lineup or while recalling past events.

Specific factors of a case, such as a defendant's defense strategy or the validity of a medical issue, may also be explained by a hired human factors expert. Many cases that deal with very unique, specific illnesses or defense strategies often rely on a human factors expert in order to attest to the validity of the matters in question. Both defense and prosecution lawyers may use these experts.

Some human factors experts provide additional help for clients beyond consultations. They may perform research specific to that client's needs, informing the client of both current scientific standards as well as new research and developments in areas of interest. They can develop an individual publication strictly for a company's use, identifying safety strategies for internal use. Training clients and their workers in safety techniques and procedures may also be included in the job.

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lovealot
Post 4

My grandson shows interest in becoming a human factors expert. He seems to be able to observe people individually and in groups and come up with reasons why they do what they do. So I would think that he would have to start with a firm foundation in psychology and sociology.

He's also interested in technology, especially in computers. I'm guessing that he would need to get a double major. I wouldn't be surprised if he would need to get a doctorate degree. But maybe along the way, he could be an intern in a technology company.

He's always talking about the way computers affect people in their thinking and actions. He sees the positive and the negative. So I think he may have hit on his calling.

David09
Post 3

@SkyWhisperer - I don’t think that a human factors expert would answer important questions about the nature of the medical condition, per se. I agree, that’s pretty much the doctor’s domain.

However, I think that the human factors expert might address the question of whether a medical condition would prevent someone from functioning properly in a certain environment – or whether aspects of that environment could have possibly brought upon such a condition, like whiplash in a car crash.

That’s my guess, but I think their expertise is more needed in that sense, not in how well they understand the medical prognosis.

SkyWhisperer
Post 2

Any profession which involves a crossover discipline of psychology and engineering is unique indeed. I had never heard of a human factors expert until now, although based on the article, I imagine that they would be very useful in fleshing out OSHA regulations or other rules for the workplace.

I also think that they might be useful in putting together instructions or warnings in industrial facilities, given their knowledge of how people interact with their environment.

Since this seems to be a broad field, however, I wonder how credible they would be in a court of law? The article states that the human factors expert would be called upon to determine how credible a medical issue is in a court case. Wouldn’t a doctor be more qualified to answer such a question?

B707
Post 1

The job of a human factors expert sounds fascinating. Wide knowledge of psychology, sociology, and human relations would be essential to all human factors experts, but then they can choose from many different specialties to find their niche.

I can see why so many end up working in the legal field. There are so many ambiguities in legal proceedings that need to be explained.

I think people who go into this field must be very intelligent,a good researcher,a good communicator,have a lot of confidence,and be a good speaker.

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