Research in Focus

Associate Professor Carlo Caponecchia

Carlo Caponecchia Headshot

I have a background in Psychology and work in Human Factors and Safety. I grew up in Newcastle and studied psychology there and developed an interest in behavioural psychology and exposure to stressors. Psychology was in partnership with Aviation at Newcastle uni in those days, and I recall being thrown in at the deep end when learning about human factors. With very little direction, we had to complete a group project that identified and addressed an important human factors issue. I ended up touring parts of BHP and talking to workers about training regimes, and ever since have appreciated the value of getting out and talking to people doing the work in order to learn more about how to make that work better, safer and more productive.

I’ve been involved in research across a number of different domains, including transport (aviation, road and rail); healthcare and construction. What I find most interesting and important about human factors is how, despite differences in all these areas, the core HF issues, and processes needed for improvement, are really very similar.

My research falls into three main streams: human factors tools and methods; risk perception and risk management, and psychosocial elements of human factors. Some of my students’ projects currently seek to:

  • systematise the classification human factors variabilities in incidents, within the Functional Resonance Analysis Method (FRAM) (Wulin Tian)
  • identify aspects of National culture that may influence aviation incidents (Gradiyan Budi Pratama), and
  • understand the impacts of Future and Emerging Ways of Work, particularly gig work, in relation to safety regulation (Alice Cheng).

My own area of specialty is really the psychosocial elements of Human Factors, and I’ve done a lot of work recently in helping to develop the Australian and International Standard on Psychosocial Risks (AS/ISO45003:2021) as part of my role on Standards Australian Committee SF-001 and ISO TC283. I’ve also been involved in the development of the some of the new Codes of Practice on psychosocial risks which unpack the new elements of the WHS Regulation that’s in place around the country (except Victoria!). While these are not new duties, the new Regulations represent an elevation in the detailed requirements imposed on businesses. Many Australian organisations are working hard to ensure they are adequately identifying, and then controlling these risks which can exist in any kind of work, regardless of location, equipment, or task.

In 2023, with the assistance of our Director of Teaching Dr Vanessa Huron and the Life Long Learning team I developed a short course entitled Managing Psychosocial Risks at Work. It’s a self-paced online course which runs across a few weeks, with two virtual workshops. Following a successful pilot in October 2023, two further offerings were scheduled (February 2024, and mid-year). Participants told us during the course that they were already able to take the activities and use them in their day jobs to drive change, which was really great feedback on the impact of this work. More info on the course is available here.

We’ve been lucky enough to continue working with the NSW Centre for Work Health and Safety, particularly to develop and pilot test our tool to support competencies for work re-design for psychosocial risks (the PHReD tool; see www.workdesignformentalhealth.org),

and this was showcased recently at the 23rd World Safety Congress held in Sydney in November 2023. We have also been working with the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia (CMHAA) to develop a toolkit that helps organisations understand which psychosocial risk tools might be appropriate for their purposes. https://cmhaa.org.au/our-resources/managing-psychosocial-risk-in-the-workplace-introduction-to-resources/

A research theme I’ve been working on with colleagues at UNSW Aviation (Dr Vanessa Huron), UNSW Canberra (A/Prof Sharron O’Neill and Prof Helen Dickinson) and Western Sydney University (Dr Beth Mayland and Dr Kristy Coxon) is accessibility in air travel. We received some seed funding that examined systems and processes for managing accessibility of public spaces, and have an exciting research agenda to explore accessibility further in air travel. Accessibility is a key challenge in aviation, as reflected by IATA, and Australia’s Aviation Green Paper. As a team, we’re bringing together our experience and expertise in safety management systems and Standards, inclusion and disability, and ergonomics and human factors, in order to help ensure tailored, embedded approaches to accessibility management. We will be working alongside people with lived experience of disability, which is critical in this area. We are always looking for partners that want to help inform research and contribute to meaningful and continual improvement across the industry, so please get in touch if you’re interested to know more about our plans!