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Putting human factors at the

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ith the rise of non-technical skills training, increasing understanding of the risks of fatigue and on-track working, as well as technological innovations and consideration of the staff who must drive ‘safety culture’, the rail industry is now looking at safety from a more people-focused perspective.

The International Railway Safety Conference (IRSC 2012)

took place in London from

October 7 – 12 and attracted visitors from all over the UK as well as more than 100 delegates from elsewhere.

The 22nd annual conference concentrated

on leadership, culture, behaviours, and the integration of human factors into management systems.

Colin Dennis, event hosting committee co- chair, and Anne Mills, RSSB head of human factors, spoke to RTM about IRSC 2012 and the latest developments in rail safety.

Looking for the similarities

Feedback from IRSC 2012 has been very positive, and Dennis said the main message from the event was the “massive potential for learning across the international scene”, as well as a need to reduce duplication across industry research. More joint working could result in greater effi ciencies, he suggested.

“If you took something like level crossings, everybody’s designing new equipment and designing new systems all in the same way, and doing the same sort of human factor studies and behavioural studies,” Dennis explained.

Mills added that it was important to be aware of the individual cultural context at play, but agreed: “Often there’ll be lots and lots of similarities. I think maybe we sometimes focus too heavily on the cultural differences or the contextual differences, rather than looking for the similarities as well.”

70 | rail technology magazine Dec/Jan 13 the of rail safety

The RSSB’s Colin Dennis, director of policy research and risk, and Anne Mills, head of human factors, discuss the r of human factors in rail safety, and the success of the IRSC 2012 conference, which Dennis co-chaired.

Cultural differences evident at the conference were instances of making decisions under tremendous pressure.

Speakers from the Japanese railways described how their drivers were “terrifi ed” of acting outside

factors, discuss the role

are pilot studies in progress exploring the idea of formally embedding such training in competence management systems across the industry.

rules during the March 2011

earthquake and tsunami, despite that fact it was “way beyond anything that the manuals or rule book could possibly been written to deal with”, Dennis said.

Lessons could be learnt there about how to take a more fl exible approach to the rule book, he said, with “the ability for people to make decisions on the ground based on what they’re seeing rather than what the control room think they’re seeing”.

Softer skills

Mills added that there was some valuable learning from other industries and countries around non-technical skills training,

around non-technical skills training, to develop train managers’ decision-making, situational awareness and ways of retaining their attention.

She said: “All these softer skills that underpin their technical skills, but doing it in a more formal fashion – I think that might be something that our colleagues from Japan might consider going forward with.

“Certainly we’re quite proud of that work

the industry is doing, because it’s quite groundbreaking.”

The training in question underpins technical skill and appreciates the infl uences

behaviour, continued. allowing Formalising this

psychology that staff

understand the potential for errors to occur, Mills


within the rail industry could allow staff to recover from mistakes more effi ciently.

Some companies are already providing training in non-technical skills, but


While this research is still in its early stages, Mills highlighted the range of ongoing courses and said: “It will start to bear fruit and we’ll see more companies doing it.

“It’s all about the general development process, moving from ‘really good’ to ‘excellent’ in terms of your competence.”


The largest human risk factor to safety on the railway, excluding trespass and suicide, is the management of the platform-train interface, Dennis said.

“Most passenger fatalities occur in and around the platform-train interface, with people falling off platforms, being struck by trains and people falling between trains.”

Mills stressed the importance of staff

understanding why rules are not followed, either because of genuine error or because of a particular context.

The new approach to safety on the railways, from RSSB’s perspective, is to make safety rules simpler and more easy to follow, to reduce deviation.

Work is ongoing to further develop safety management systems where data can be logged to formally capture human factor issues.


Dennis highlighted track workers as a key area of risk, with a need to reduce the time that people need to be on and around the track, protecting them against trains running on adjacent lines, and making sure clear rules are in place and lines of safety communications and communication links are adequate.

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