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Active Error (or Active Failure)

The terms "active" and "latent" as applied to errors were coined by James Reason.(1,2) Active errors occur at the point of contact between a human and some aspect of a larger system (e.g., a human-machine interface). They are generally readily apparent (e.g., pushing an incorrect button, ignoring a warning light) and almost always involve someone at the frontline. Latent errors (or latent conditions), in contrast, refer to less apparent failures of organisation or design that contributed to the occurrence of errors or allowed them to cause harm to workers. Active failures are sometimes referred to as errors at the "sharp end," In other words, errors at the sharp end are noticed first because they are consequent on the actions of the worker. To complete the metaphor, latent errors lie away unnoticed from the immediate task ?the "blunt end"?referring to the many layers of the safety management system that affect the person involved in the activity.


  • Reason JT. Human Error. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1990
  • Reason J. Human error: models and management. BMJ. 2000;320:768-770.



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