"Human Error" has always been a major cause of accidents and prevention of human
error has always been a major part of safe system design. the field of Human
Factors concerns itself with adapting machines, and systems, to humans - rather
than attempting to adapt humans to machines. See wikipedia article at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_factors To do this, consideration must be
given to the physical and cognitive limits of the humans in the system - not
only the humans involved during system operation, but also during design,
development, manufacturer and maintenance. Since it can be very expensive to
alter a system once the design has progressed beyond the initial stages, Human
Factors Engineering must be involved from the beginning.
Due to the high visibility of aircraft accidents, much research - starting
during World War II - has been conducted on setting pilots up for success,
rather than failure. Sanders and McCormic have a classic text - Human Factors in
Engineering and Design - on the subject.
The accident at Three Mile Island - where operator lack of awareness of the
system state was a factor - resulted in an additional round of research in the
1980's and 90's.
Recent accident investigations and theories center around Organizational
Human System Integration (HSI) has become the new term covering the field.
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
The FAA has a complete Design Guidance document online. It includes detailed information on which type of alarm, display or control is best for different circumstances.
The NASA guidance document for Human Systems Integration is also online. The older (NASA 3000) had been replaced with a newer version: NASA-STD-3001, in three parts.
And, good old MIL-STD-1472 is still available.