Reviews Book

The Human Factor: Revolutionizing the Way People Live with Technology

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 25 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1292
  1. Chris Ham (, professor of health policy and management
  1. Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham

    What do the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the painting of flies on men's urinals have in common? According to Kim Vicente, both are examples of the way in which technology and people interact to create more or less desirable outcomes.

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    Kim Vicente

    Routledge, $27.95, pp 352 ISBN 0 415 97064 4

    Rating: GraphicGraphicGraphicGraphic

    In the case of Chernobyl, the designers of the nuclear power plant developed a technology that outstripped the ability of the operators to use it safely. The tragic consequence was an explosion that resulted in death or serious illness to thousands of people, with reverberations around the world.

    By contrast, the strategic location of painted flies on men's urinals minimised the risk of “splash back” by making it easy for the users to do what comes naturally. In this case, the technology in question (the painted flies) appealed to the desire of men to aim in a direction that avoided an adverse outcome (trouser stains).

    Both examples illustrate the …

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