This paper reviews the key perspectives on human error and analyses the core theories and methods developed and applied over the last 60 years. These theories and methods have sought to improve our understanding of what human error is, and how and why it occurs, to facilitate the prediction of errors and use these insights to support safer work and societal systems. Yet, while this area of Ergonomics and Human Factors (EHF) has been influential and long-standing, the benefits of the ‘human error approach’ to understanding accidents and optimising system performance have been questioned. This state of science review analyses the construct of human error within EHF. It then discusses the key conceptual difficulties the construct faces in an era of systems EHF. Finally, a way forward is proposed to prompt further discussion within the EHF community.