From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Don’t Blame the Ref, Blame Poor Task Design For That Bad Call

For every sports fan who has ever recommended a trip to the eye doctor to a referee who made a bad call, one specialists now believes that in some circumstances, making a good call may be completely out of the referee’s control.

It has to do with human capabilities and, in particular, the process involved in making an offside call in soccer (football), says Spanish researcher and family practice specialist Francisco Belda Maruenda. Says Maruenda, the task itself exceeds what a human is capable of doing.

According to Maruenda, whose discussion of the subject is published in the December 18, 2004 issue of the British Medical Journal, “to apply the offside rule correctly in a football game, the referee must be able to keep in his visual field at least five objects at the same time—two players of the attacking team, the last two players of the defending team, and the ball.” This task, he says, “is beyond the capacity of the human eye” and “may explain why so many offside decisions are controversial.”

From an ergonomics and human factors perspective, it’s also a matter of poor task design, similar to what can also happen in a more traditional workplace. When a job is designed that exceeds or pushes the limits of either the physical or mental capabilities of the worker, a host of problems can occur – in the workplace, depending on what capabilities are exceeded, it could mean reduced productivity, increased injury potential, stress, or in the case of the soccer referees, an increased likelihood that errors will occur.

In a situation where a task exceeds workers’ ability, ergonomists would first recommend redesigning the task (engineering control) or if that failed, looking for administrative controls that might make the task more manageable. However, since redesigning the game of soccer or the referee is an impractical proposition, Maruenda recommends the use of modern technology like freeze frame or instant replay to ensure that the offside rule is applied correctly.

Sources: British Medical Journal; Ergonomics TodayTM