Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Skip Navigation Linkshuman-factors

Human factors

Human factors

Huw Gibson

Head of Human Factors

Human factors concerns the optimisation of human performance in the workplace. It considers the working environment from a human-centred viewpoint, looking at the whole system and its influence on the way people behave and interact with the railway.

Human factors capability at RSSB

​RSSB’s human factors (HF) specialists support the rail industry by providing technical input to research, Railway Group Standards, and new systems like ERTMS and GSM-R. RSSB’s HF specialists are also a direct resource for the railway industry, helping companies deal with their own HF issues. Our specialists cover a broad range of topics from cab design to recruitment and selection, visual performance and fatigue. Our HF specialists have helped develop tools and resources for the rail industry, and they run courses to support the industry in developing its skills in, and understanding of HF.  ​Some of our HF skills and expertise are described in a ​series of case studies.​

Human factors and performance

The railway is a technical system, in which people are as much an integral part as any mechanical component. Technical systems are becoming more wide reaching and complex, so it is essential to consider their impact on:

  • Individuals, their knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • The job and the demands placed on people doing the work
  • The organisation and how it employs people as valuable assets that need investment and the systems in place to support the safe and effective operation of the company.

Human factors supports the design of railway systems that optimises performance. Integrating human factors activities at the start of a project can reduce the need for re-design once systems have entered service, reduce the potential for staff turnover and increase productivity for the whole organisation.

Human factors and safety

Human error is often identified as being causal in accidents and incidents, but people rarely make mistakes on purpose. The human factors discipline has a body of knowledge, tools, and techniques to identify:

  • Factors which adversely impact on human performance
  • Potential errors
  • Solutions to minimise the impact of human errors.

The application of human factors knowledge can significantly reduce the likelihood of an accident or incident and any subsequent loss to property, or human life.

Human factors can reduce the potential for error and increase the margin of safety.

Human factors and SPADS

In investigations, knowledge about the role of human factors is still inconsistent and there can be a temptation to focus solely on the train driver and not on the role of underlying causes.

To address this, we reviewed SPADs from a human factors perspective, looking at reports, live investigations, processes, and running workshops with drivers, signallers and managers.  

The review has led to a range of outputs to help organisations improve SPAD investigations.

New guidance, 'How to manage SPAD risk better - a guide for directors' aims to provide practical advice to senior industry managers to improve SPAD investigations.  Electronic copies have been sent to operational safety leads in Network Rail and train and freight operating companies by Steve Murphy the Chair of the SPAD Risk Reduction Strategy Group, and Managing Director at MTR Crossrail.

The guide is also available on SPARK, alongside a full report of the 'Industry Human Factors SPAD Review', and a shorter summary report from the workshops.

4th RSSB Fatigue Risk Management Forum – 1 December 2017

RSSB’s 4th Fatigue Risk Management Forum took place on 1 December 2017 at RSSB’s offices in Moorgate, London

The event is aimed at people who have responsibility for defining a company’s Safety Management System, attaining safety certificates, monitoring fatigue risk or advising on roster design, occupational health or training related to fatigue. This event provides a great opportunity to share experiences of fatigue risk management, discuss good practices, challenges and solutions. 

This was the 4th in a series of events which has proven to be popular over the years, and will explore fatigue risk management initiatives within the industry.

The papers and presentations from last year’s event are available to download from SPARK.

ASLEF Human Factors awareness day

In 2016 RSSB held a joint workshop with ALSEF to launch the Fair Culture Good Practice Guide (which resulted from R&D project T1068) and ALSEF Competence Development Plan Best Practice Document.  Following the success of this inaugural meeting, the Human Factors team recently hosted a follow up meeting at RSSB for ASLEF Reps.  66 delegates attended the day which covered an update on the use of the two organisations respective fair culture documents, SMIS+ and Underlying Incident factors, Fatigue and Non-technical skills.  The slides from this meeting can be downloaded here [8.2mb].

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ASLEF Human Factors awareness day presentation