Error traps can be defined as single or multiple circumstances that can result in an undesirable consequence such as an accident. This list provides names and descriptions of some likely error traps:

Treatment –the worker takes for granted that what he or she is about to do is correct or predetermines the outcome of a particular effort without considering the unexpected.

Change/off normal –when a worker returns to a job and the conditions have changed or are not what the worker expected.

Distractions/interruptions –the worker loses focus on the task at hand (e.g., sudden noise, another employee asking a question.)

First shift/late shift –this could be the result of workers coming onto a shift or off of a shift and not in the frame of mind or physically not prepared to perform the task.

Mental stress –the emotional factor that can interfere with a worker’s ability to perform a job safely.

Multiple tasks –workers performing too many tasks, becoming confused or overloaded.

Overconfidence –the worker believes he or she can complete the job without appropriate equipment, knowledge, time, manpower, and planning.

Peer pressure –when an employee feels a need to complete a job a certain way (e.g., without proper knowledge or without help) because they are influenced or appear to be influenced by fellow employees.

Physical environment –the work environment provides hazards (slippery surface) that can result in an undesired event.

Time pressure –when workers are under an unreasonable time deadline to complete a job, leading to shortcuts.

Vague/interpretive guidance –when workers receive instructions to complete an assignment and miscommunication takes place resulting in misunderstanding of how to complete the task in a safe manner.

Factors causing error traps

Predicting when the most likely error traps will occur to a worker is difficult. Instead, focus on the factors that cause error traps to occur. These include the maturity of the workforce, the type of industry, the type and complexity of the process or equipment being used, proper training to include recognition and understanding of error traps and preventative actions, and the safety culture of the organization.

Avoiding error traps today is particularly challenging due to the economic pressures all industries face. The potential of job eliminations or fear of job elimination can cause employees to be mentally stressed.

But there are tools that can be used to address error traps. Two techniques that work well utilize the concept STAR and Event-Free Check. These techniques when understood and used by employees and management can help to prevent error traps from occurring. Both techniques must be consistently discussed, understood, and used before the start of any job.


Stop – Pause, and focus attention on the task about to be performed

Think – Understand exactly what is required to complete the job safely

Act – Perform the action

Review – Confirm the expected results are obtained

Event-Free Check

Correct area, component and procedure – look the job over and determine whether you are working in the right area, the right component, and using the right procedure.

Hazard and condition review – perform a review of the job hazards or any unsafe conditions that exist.

Evaluate for error traps – pre-determine possible error traps

Check for proper use of PPE – is the PPE adequate?

Keep attention on task – do not lose focus

Everyone has their assignments

Management plays a key role in avoiding error traps by educating and preparing the workforce. Supervision must ensure employees are not put into these circumstances by:
  • Leading by example.
  • Consistent reinforcement of the use of the techniques STAR and Event-Free Check.
  • Questioning employees to ensure that they understand the techniques.
  • Plan jobs accordingly and take the time to insure that all hazards are identified and addressed.
  • Know the worker and their capabilities for performing the work assignments.

Employees also have a role:

  • Understand their habits and behaviors.
  • Be familiar with the type of error traps that could occur.
  • Recognize when error traps are about to occur.
  • Stop when unsure of performing any job and discuss concerns with supervision.
  • Utilize the preventative actions STAR and Event-Free Check.