There have been advances in the priorities of human factors in many sectors in the past couple of decades. Perhaps nowhere has this been clearer than in infrastructure such as transport, utilities and construction. However, it’s arguable that the greatest explosion of new human factors ideas, understanding, analyses, designs, standards and implementations has been in the railway industry.
These advances include:
- A systems (engineering) orientation and advances in theory and methods to understand social and socio-technical systems.
- Special concern with complex multi-person, spatially and functionally distributed systems.
- A shift from concern with physical work and life to the cognitive and social.
- Better understanding of context and setting including government, regulatory, community and societal influences.
As well as increased impact within the user community, one of the ways to measure the growth in importance and impact of a field is when it has its own literature reporting on its own original investigations, methods and theory development. The major platform for dissemination of the work of the Network Rail Ergonomics Team and the RSSB Human Factors Team has been the series of international rail human factors conferences and published proceedings.
International Rail Human Factors Conference
The Fourth International Rail Human Factors Conference will take place from 5th to 7th March 2013 at the CBI Building, Centre Point, London. Visit www.railhf2013.org for all details. It will provide a mixture of presentations from leading authorities, workshops and discussions. There will be contributions from infrastructure owners and operating companies, contractors and suppliers, regulators, consultancies, research institutes and leading universities. Researchers will learn from industry about the current needs for knowledge, tools and guidance, and industry will be exposed to current thinking and outcomes of high quality research and practice. Highlights will include sessions on the metro, level crossings, fatigue, rail traffic management, incident reporting and train driver advisory systems.
University of Nottingham Centre for Rail Human Factors
In the 1990s the work at University of Nottingham in HFHuman Factors of air traffic control and process control generally led to the start of a substantial and long-term relationship with the rail industry. Together with partners at Network Rail and RSSB, and HFHuman Factors groups across the world, this has led a worldwide revival in rail HFHuman Factors research and application.
The Centre for Rail Human Factors has been a member since inception of Rail Research UK, the major nationally-funded consortium of universities involved in rail research, and HFHuman Factors managers for the European Commission rail research network EURNEX. Nottingham is also a partner on current European Commission rail system projects.
Relevant rail research specialisms at Nottingham include: systems ergonomics/engineering and development of techniques of systems analysis, work domain analysis and work activity analysis; automation, workload and human performance, with theoretical, tool development and systems design contributions based on an understanding of cognitive ergonomics; risk, safety and security, including fundamental examination of HFHuman Factors risk and of human error analysis/prediction tools; design of location-aware systems and mobile computing devices; development and use of full size and micro simulators for HFHuman Factors experimental purposes; and systems and tools to assess team work processes and collaborative design and engineering. Examples of current and recent projects are:
- Field and laboratory-based research examining train driver switching between in-cab and trackside signalling.
- Studies of the expertise and strategies used in rail network control, especially in light of future role combining across companies.
- Examination of the impacts on and of the supply chain for safe behaviours and safety culture amongst rail infrastructure contractors.
- Development of the first human factors framework of processing of data to intelligence within rail intelligent infrastructure systems used trackside and elsewhere, drawing consequent lessons and guidance for information display interface requirements of multiple functions, design of alarm systems and implementation and job design lessons.
RESTRAIL is a European Commission-funded network of major rail companies, universities and research organisations, led by the Union Internationale des Chemins. The project aims to reduce suicide and trespass on railway property, developing best practices and processes for prevention, mitigation and management of incidents. Nottingham is leading on understanding how better evidence on the behaviours of people prior to incidents can contribute to earlier and more effective interventions and is developing methodology for the evaluation of preventative measures.
The ON-TIME project is being carried out by a European Commission-funded network of major rail operating and infrastructure companies and research institutes, led by Network Rail. Optimisation algorithms for planning (timetabling) and running (signalling, incident management, training driving) of the railways are being developed to increase use of capacity. Nottingham is working on design and evaluation of user interfaces for timetable planning, traffic management and driver advisory systems. Critical challenges include the design of representations to convey more detailed information about traffic status.
The European Railway Agency is funding work on the understanding of safety critical roles and related HFHuman Factors, based on several years of function analysis and risk assessment by Nottingham and for Network Rail. Identifying key human functions and safety-relevant activities will help to contribute to the future human factors research agenda of the Agency.
RSSB Human Factors team
RSSB (Rail Safety and Standards Board) has the role to build rail industry-wide consensus and facilitate the resolution of difficult cross-industry issues. RSSB provides knowledge, analysis, a substantial level of technical expertise, and powerful information and risk management tools.
RSSB has built up its HFHuman Factors capability since 2000 following the rail crash at Ladbroke Grove. Initially this comprised a single specialist, but with deeper understanding of the role the discipline can play in supporting the rail industry, the team now comprises twelve full-time specialists. They support RSSB’s members by ensuring HFHuman Factors knowledge and methods are integrated into all rail company activities including the development of industry standards, good practice documents, the analysis of safety data, risk assessments, development of new systems such as ERTMS and GSM-R, industry training resources and supporting the rail industry research programme.
More widely, the human factors team acts as a resource by helping companies deal with their own HFHuman Factors issues. The team also supports the development of rules and standards aimed at harmonising the European rail network. In order to support the dissemination of HFHuman Factors knowledge specific to the rail industry, the team has developed a library of documents at www.rssbhumanfactorslibrary.co.uk.
Examples of current and recent projects are:
- The development and validation of a new driver psychometric assessment process, including the development of a selective judgement exercise used to support the interviewing process.
- The development, trial and evaluation of a non-technical skills (NTS) training course with industry. These are generic skills such as conscientiousness, communication, rule compliance and workload management, that underpin and enhance technical tasks and improve safety by helping people to anticipate, identify and mitigate against errors. The team is now supporting the industry with integration of NTS within their competence management systems.
- The production of good practice guides for managers and front line staff supported by an educational DVD aimed at reducing fatigue risks associated with work-related road driving.
- The development of a tool to consider the risk factors necessary to assess and manage musculoskeletal disorders in train drivers.
- The development of a database linked to the industry Safety Management Information System to classify and analyse incident reports from an HFHuman Factors perspective.
- A series of studies to develop and assess the use of head up displays for train drivers.
- The development of a toolkit to measure and develop safety cultures.
By John Wilson & Nastaran Dadashi, Human Factors Research Group, University of Nottingham. Anita Scott & Ann Mills, RSSB.
All photos copyright Network Rail.