The importance of human factors in the rail industry


According to the ERA ( European Union Agency for Railways ), the Human Factor is the scientific discipline that deals with understanding the interactions between human beings and other elements of a system, applying theory, principles, data and other methods to design and optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

The Human Factor integrates knowledge in social sciences such as Management Sciences, Psychology, Sociology, Ergonomics, Design Sciences, Political Sciences, to broaden the scope of study and research of organizational, institutional, cultural or political contributors to security .

From a conceptual point of view, the Human Factor refers to the interactions between the components of the system and humans, considering their behaviors, at all levels, such as individual, situational, group, organizational or cultural.

In addition to supporting the integration of safety at the design stage , the Human Factor approach provides concepts and methods to identify the gaps between task (work as prescribed or expected) and activity (work as actually performed or experienced. and workers report). These gaps, whether related to the task and / or activity, are problematic as they are a source of residual risk and must be taken into account in safety studies. This enables better management of workplace reality in complex organizations such as systems sociotechnical railways, which is critical to lead to safety improvements.

Examples of interactions, observable at various levels, can be found in: job design, workload, fatigue, procedures, skills management, working conditions, organizational and technological change, staffing, reporting culture, investigations and audits systemic or safety culture of to organization.

The notion of interaction is not easy to understand. For example, we can consider that an error may be due to workload. Although it is a "Human Factor reasoning", it can be expanded depending on the situation. Other factors could have played a role (positive or negative). An error such as lack of information in critical communication can be the result of a combination of factors such as job design, rigid staff, unlearned situation, lack of risk analysis, or unmonitored workload. Due to these "uncontrolled" interactions, people in the workplace often adapt procedures to available resources and circumstances .

If these risk behaviors or "bugs" are not investigated from a system point of view (and eliminated its causes root), they will be repeated, generating even a new informal but tolerated task, with more serious consequences.

Furthermore, threatening to punish or punish people in these cases will be perceived not only as unfair, but will also have a limited effect and for a short period of time. As an alternative, maybe we propose more training for those operators? Ok, but with a high risk of accentuating the difference between what is expected in theory and what is actually possible in practice in the workplace.

So it is important to remember that these interactions stimulate people to behave in this adaptive way. The Human Factor is not only considering people, but also the context and real work situations.

The objective is to adapt the work situation to the worker so that he feels as comfortable as possible to carry out his task. To help people do their job, an organization needs to understand how humans (with their capabilities and limitations) use specifications to solve problems and take this knowledge into account when designing their work environment. The same goes for rules and regulations: as long as workers who implement them are not considered when designing work procedures, they will be forced to break the rules in order to get the job done whenever contradictions or conflicts arise.

Why are human and organizational factors so important to safety?

The Railway Safety has improved a lot (as in other high - risk industries) in recent decades. At first, the focus was on technical reliability. Second, there was a formalization of processes (with the massive implementation of Security Management Systems or SGS ). There have been great improvements in security performance, but in recent years the improvements are stabilizing and a plateau effect is being seen. Faced with this situation, the ERA ruled that it is time to prioritize the integration of Human and organizational factors to continue improving safety performance since it is considered a still underdeveloped area in the railway world.

Integration of Human Factors in the processes of an organization

Experience shows that the use of a systematic approach to Human and Organizational Factors in targeting risk is an integral part of a Safety Management System . The Human Factors and organizational involves adopting a systemic perspective in which the interactions between human factors , technological and organizational considered through a life cycle approach:

  • Management's commitment to Human and Organizational Factors is demonstrated in policies and objectives and in management and leadership behaviors. Training and procedure development are based on the task to be performed within its natural environment, which will help to optimize both risk control and performance (e.g. task analysis, usability analysis, simulation, human HAZOP) .
  • Establish objectives, expectations and responsibilities in relation to safety behaviors at all levels of the organization and ensure timely feedback and communication.
  • Business objectives, management, operations, human performance, tasks, and workplace layout are considered. The analysis must identify all Human and Organizational Factors and performance influencing factors that will affect rail safety and the safety management activities necessary to control risks. This includes using the experience of current users in the production of design requirements, analyzing tasks to identify cognitive and physiological challenges, reducing the potential for erroneous performance through design by applying Human Factors guidelines such as different ISO or UIC standards . , perform fatigue and workload management analysis to ensure that personnel are capable of performing the task , performing risk analysis to identify potential problems and identifying compensatory actions for these. The procedure for communicating the results of risk assessments.
  • Safety management activities related to functions and support systems, task design, staffing levels, training, design and use of communication equipment, procedures and protocols should be identified.
  • Changes in roles, responsibilities, tools and equipment, work environments, processes and procedures are supported by an analysis of Human and Organizational Factors to identify possible security risks related to the change. The methods used could be, for example, task analysis, usability analysis, simulation, risk assessment, HAZOP and safety study .
  • Identification of safety-critical work tasks and processes, and methods from the Human and Organizational Factors domain are used to analyze safety-critical work tasks, for example, Task Analysis, HTA (Hierarchical Task Analysis ), TTA (tabular task analysis). Professional experience in Human and Organizational Factors should be used to select and apply appropriate methods.
  • Operational planning in relation, for example, to work schedules, fatigue management, stress, work environment (physical and psychosocial), workplaces and work processes, etc.
  • Adequate resources in relation to the asset ensuring that human and organizational factors are properly considered and addressed.
  • The monitoring and research take a systems perspective , ie not only to look human, technological and organizational factors in their own right, but also to emphasize the interactions between factors.

Areas in which Human Factors play a key role include:

  • Design of tools, equipment and user interfaces in a way that increases the user's work performance.
  • Human and organizational factors in risk assessments and emergency preparedness planning.
  • Human behavior and cognition in accident causation .
  • Efficient decision making and teamwork in stressful or critical situations.
  • Safety culture and safety behavior improvement programs.
  • Organizational reliability.

Two important and well-known perspectives are complemented here: having the good level of reactivity after an event to reduce the probability of its repetition, and being proactive in the design and analysis of risks to anticipate the appropriate actions to produce and reduce it you risks to an acceptable level.

Legal Obligations to integrate Human Factors in the Railway Administrations

The ERA indicates that the main legislation consists of two directives that must be transposed into the national legislation of each member state, which refer to the obligation to take into account Human Factors :

  • Directive 89/391 on the introduction of measures to promote improvements in the safety and health of workers at work and,
  • Directive 2016/798 on railway safety that requires railway companies and infrastructure managers to integrate Human and organizational factors into their safety management system.

On the other hand, Regulation 2018/762 that establishes Common Security Methods on the requirements of the security management system that has reinforced this last obligation by imposing the inclusion of Human Factors in the risk assessment and requiring the demonstration of the organization to have a systematic approach for the integration of Human Factors in its Security Management System . This approach should:

  • Include the development of a strategy and the use of recognized knowledge and methods in the field of Human and Organizational Factors ;
  • Address the risks associated with the design and use of equipment, tasks, working conditions, and organizational arrangements, taking into account human capabilities, as well as limitations, and influences on human performance.

Many companies and organizations have health and safety policies and practices. Many of them already apply an ISO or CENELEC approach to their risk management. Many of them, specifically due to the history of railway accidents, are focused on ergonomics for machinists, signallers, for heavy tasks on the track, or mortal dangers such as electricity or railway vehicles, etc.

Leedeo Engineering , your partner to develop your risk management processes, RAMS Engineering, including Human Factor analysis and HAZOP ( Risk Analysis of Processes) . We have extensive experience in the development of projects in the railway, aeronautics, energy and automotive industries.

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