Category Archives: Flagging

Human Performance Tool Spotlight: Flagging

custom_flag_pin_15124Greetings HP Toolbox Community! I have recently been teaching some human performance fundamentals classes and have been asked to share content with my website visitors, and I love to share and trade human performance improvement information. So, over the next few weeks, I will be publishing a lot of human performance tool (HPT) content specific to the tools field workers should be using. As a reminder, tools are only part of a human performance improvement initiative and they are only to be used when they matter the most, which often is in preparation of managing a critical step, or recognizing you’re in an error-likely situation. Feel free to drop a note if this is helpful to you and your program! As an old instrument and control technician, this tool is quite possibly one of my favorite.

Flagging (and Operational Barriers)


An event can result from an individual starting an activity on the wrong similar, but closely located, component or taking a break or being distracted from one component and subsequently going back to work on an adjacent, similar—but wrong—component. If a component is physically near other similar-looking components and is handled multiple times, flagging helps the user consistently touch the correct component. Using self-checking, an individual distinctly marks the correct component with a flagging device that helps the performer visually return to the correct component during the activity or after a distraction or interruption. Individuals can also use flagging to identify similar components that are not to be touched or manipulated.

Flagging involves highlighting a component in such a way to improve the chances of performing actions on the correct component. Operational Barriers are used to mark or cover components that are not to be worked or manipulated during an evolution. Flagging & Operational Barriers is particularly helpful when there are several similar components in close proximity to those affected by the work activity. Several events have been attributed to an individual starting an activity on one component, taking a break or becoming otherwise distracted from the component, and performing manipulations on the wrong component.

Managers are encouraged to approve the flagging devices. Devices such as colored adhesive dots, ribbons, colored tags, rope, magnetic placards, or orange electrical tape may be used for this purpose. Flagging devices should not interfere with facility equipment, including the observation of meters and other system indicators.

When to use this tool:

  • When handling a component near similar-looking components
  • While working on a component that will be manipulated multiple times
  • Performing two or more manipulations of several similar components in close proximity to those affected by the work activity
  • During work near “trip-sensitive” or otherwise risk-important equipment
  • When the need for flagging is identified during the pre-job briefing

How to use this tool:

  1. Identify the component to be flagged using self-checking. Identify the component that will have a flag or an operational barrier by using other HU tools such as self-check or peer-check. Be 100% certain that the device is identified correctly before installing the flag or operational barrier.
  2. Flag the designated component to be handled or worked on using an approved device. Flagging remains in place while work is in progress. Caution – Only Flag the component that will be worked. Place Operational Barriers on components NOT to be manipulated or worked. Attach the flag or operational barrier to the designated component using devices that will remain securely in place, such as colored adhesive dots, ribbon, colored tags, rope, magnetic placards, colored electrical tape, etc.
  3. Perform work assignment or equipment manipulation.
  4. Remove flagging device(s) when work is complete.

At-Risk Practices:

  • Using similar flags for components to handle and for those not to handle
  • Not reading the pop-up dialog boxes for operating equipment (i.e. TMS)
  • Attaching a flag to a component to be manipulated only once
  • Flagging both components to be manipulated and to be avoided during same activity
  • Not self-checking or peer-checking before applying flagging
  • Using a flagging device that obscures indicators or interferes with equipment
  • Using a flagging devise that can easily become dislodged such as a post-it-note
  • Not removing a flagging device after completing the task
  • Using electrically conductive material for flagging devices


With much gratitude, a lot of the above HPT basis comes from Department of Energy (DOE) and Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) research and collaboration, and the source document could be found by clicking here.

This article (you would have to purchase – sorry, it’s not free to share) adds some more specificity to the discussion : Engaging Workers as the Best Defense Against Errors & Error Precursors by Jan K. Wachter and Patrick L. Yorio

Me. I’ve inserted a few twists and clarifications for users and myself.