Human factors in rail safety

Human factors is an important component of safety management in public transport.

What is "human factors"

Human factors and ergonomics is an applied science concerned with studying and optimising the performance of individuals and teams in the workplace. It draws on methods and principles from psychology and other behavioural and social sciences, as well as engineering, biomechanics and physiology.

The primary aim of human factors in safety critical industries (including transport) is to reduce error and improve safety, efficiency and effectiveness. The aim is achieved through an understanding of human capabilities and limitations, the way people interact with other people, the equipment they operate, and their living and work environment.

Human factors is concerned with understanding both the performance of the individual and of the team as a whole.

The application of human factors knowledge to the bus, maritime and rail industries contributes to improved performance and safety wherever the transport systems interface with people.

Why apply it to the rail industry?

It is well recognised that human factors issues play a significant role in incidents and accidents and constitute a significant source of risk in safety critical industries. 

Research in the field of human reliability has shown that human error is a normal and inevitable characteristic of human behaviour and plays a significant role in incidents and accidents. It is therefore vital that consideration is given to assessing and managing risks arising from human activity which may impact on the safety of the system.

More information

Visit the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator website for information and tools relating to human factors.

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) in the UK has published a practical guide to human factors for people working in the rail industry. The guide is available to download from the RSSB website.

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