Welcome to the Human and Organisational Factors (HOF) Digital Platform, the new interactive forum for sharing and exchanging knowledge and information on HOF. Are you a HOF Novice, Trainee, Specialist, Manager, CEO in European or international railways?
Are you coming from another mode of transport or from another industrial sector? Come and enter our HOF community-based Digital Platform! It is easy to find, share, exchange information, best practices, articles and more on this secure and user-friendly platform.

This platform brings together materials and resources to support understanding and application of HOF in the railway sector. The platform links to information on recognised HOF topics and methods relevant to the railway community, as well as providing links to other high risk industry sectors such as aviation, nuclear, and healthcare.

You may also be interested in HOF safety documents that are or will be produced based on the experience of railway members. On this platform, railway know-how will be highlighted thanks to case studies, good practices, return on operating experience and, more generally, the experiences of railway members when integrating HOF into the SMS, for example, but also when they have to develop a safety culture or work on safety leadership. Many HOF topics are covered in the “resources” tab and are divided into 4 main themes:

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Are you interested in HOF?



Do you want to learn about Human & Organisational Factors? Safety culture, non-technical skills, health and safety, more?

Join us on this international and diverse network which captures in one place the valuable and enriching information and material, either academic or practical railways-oriented, on the organizational and human factors that you need.





Are you involved in HOF activities?

You want to learn about Human & Organisational Factors? Safety culture, non-technical skills, health and safety, more? 
Join us on this international and transversal network which capitalizes the valuable and enriching information and material, either academic nor Railways oriented, on the organizational and human factors that you need. 

Are you an HOF expert?

Are you a Rail Human and Organisational factors expert, a Rail Safety expert, a Railway Head of safety, or other? This space is made for you. Here, you have access to confidential information and can even create or participate in a discussion forum to initiate conversations and exchanges with your peers.

What is HOF?

Human and Organisational Factors (HOF) is a scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions between humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and other methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance (International Ergonomics Association).

Outside of the rail sector, HOF is often referred to as either Human Factors (HF) or Ergonomics. All three terms have the same definition.

HOF integrates knowledge in the physical and social sciences such as Management Science, Sociology, Design Science, Political Science, Economics, Psychology, Physiology, or Engineering to enlarge the scope of study and investigation while considering organisational, institutional, cultural or political contributors to safety. The term ‘organisational’ has been introduced to highlight the organisational level of analysis and not only the individual level although obviously organisations are composed of individuals (ERA). 

Besides supporting the integration of safety at the design stage, the HOF approach provides concepts and methods to identify the gaps between the task (work as prescribed or expected), and the activity (work as actually performed or experienced and reported by workers). These gaps, whether concerning the task or/and the activity are problematic as they are a source of residual risk and need to be taken into account (ERA).

This allows a better managing of workplace reality in complex organisations such as railway socio-technical systems, which is critical to lead to safety improvements (European Railway Agency).

What are HOFs in concrete terms?
Human Factors is one of those terms that everybody has heard of, but the full scope of what human factors covers isn’t always obvious. Human Factors (the American term), ergonomics (the UK term), or Human and Organisational Factors (ERA term), is about designing work in a way that matches the abilities, needs and limitations of the people doing the work. It is a very broad discipline, rooted in an understanding of the psychology and physiology of humans, but applying that knowledge to the design of equipment, tools, information, processes, and procedures.

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Why do people make errors?
Whenever something goes wrong, we often hear the label ‘human error’ being applied. Within human factors, human error is the starting point for an investigation, not the end point. Ok, somebody did something wrong, but why? What was it about the person, the task, the team, and most importantly the organisation that influenced the error?

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What are non-technical skills?
One of the approaches to help minimise errors is the idea of non-technical skills. Technical skills are the skills you learn to be able to do your job – like being able to control the speed of a train or knowing where to look when dispatching a train. Non-technical skills are the softer skills that can help you do your job well.

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What are error prevention techniques?
Human error comes in three forms: slips (unintentional actions or misperception), lapses (forgetting to act) and mistakes (making a wrong decision). What is common across all three types of error is that they are unintentional – you don’t set out to get it wrong or break a rule. While human factors focusses mainly on the factors in the task and environment that led to an error, we can also reduce errors by using little tricks and tips to keep us right (so-called ‘error prevention techniques’).

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Why do people break rules?
Human error and the techniques can be used to help counteract errors. But there are two reasons why people don’t follow rules (the first is because of errors (Why do people make errors?), and the second is when people choose not to follow the rules. These are known in the human factors discipline as violations. Unlike errors, which are unintentional, violations are conscious decisions to knowingly break a rule. But there are a range of reasons why someone might do this, and not all of them are really bad!

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What are performance influencing factors?
Humans are prone to errors, but some things can make them more likely and other things can create a situation where it seems like the best option is to break a rule. The focus of human factors is understanding what these ‘things’ are and how they can be improved. These ‘things’ have lots of different names (e.g. Performance Shaping Factors, Error Producing Conditions) but we will call them Performance Influencing Factors (PIFs).

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New contributions

The SNCF’s Just & Fair approach

What are the key HOF issues?

In 2015, SNCF launched a major safety program (called PRISME) to improve its overall safety performance. As baseline of this program, the company has deployed a Just & Fair (J&F) approach to create a climate of trust and then encourage everyone to report safety problems and thus being able to fix them.

What did you do?

To support its just culture ... READ MORE

Co-construction of a Safety Culture model at SNCF

What are the key HOF issues? In 2020, SNCF became a unified public group composed by several anonymous companies. Given the status change, it was important to provide a common and unique definition of Safety Culture for the entire SNCF group. By officialising its own definition and Safety Culture model, SNCF group set in stone its ambition in terms of safety excellence. What did you do? To carry out this READ MORE

Automation Myth Busting Paper#2 The Changing Role of Staff in Automated Railway Operation and why Human Cognition is Here to Stay

Automated mainline railway operation is challenging the traditional role of the operational staff ensuring safe and punctual service. Nevertheless, there are sound operational, economic, regulatory and societal reasons for valuing and maintaining central contributions of human staff to railway operation in future automated service. Instead of a linear transferal of tasks from the human to the automation technology a human-machine ... READ MORE

Automation Myth Busting Paper#3 Automation and mental workload

Automation paradoxically has the potential to both increase and decrease mental workload, depending on the circumstances. Furthermore, decreasing workload can actually put an operator into an underload state, which is just as bad for performance as overload. We have learned these lessons in the aviation and, more recently, automotive industries; as accident reports demonstrate, we are now starting to see their impact on the railway with the ... READ MORE


The safety management system (SMS) is part of the business processes of the organisation and is not just a paper-based system specifically developed for demonstrating compliance with the regulatory framework. The ERA identifies that “the purpose of the SMS is to ensure that the organisation achieves its business objectives in a safe manner and complies with all of the safety obligations that apply to it” and that “Adopting a structured approach enables the identification of hazards and the continuous management of risks related to an organisation’s own activities, with the aim of preventing accidents.”… Read more

The systematic integration of HOF cannot be done without having a consistent reference base in the form of regulations, standards and tools. This basis makes it possible to develop the integration of HOF in the Safety Management System (SMS). This common reference allows for standardisation of HOF both within and between companies. Indeed, the systematic integration of HOF into the European railway sector at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century was not a priority for all. It was necessary to develop a common vision, common definition and tools which allowed the sector to build a common understanding of HOF… Read more

The term Human Performance refers to the contribution that humans make to the performance of a system. It describes how people carry out their work, whether as an individual or as a team, in order to meet a required objective.

From a HOF perspective, human performance is a key focus when considering how a system can be optimized, as well as where it can be vulnerable to failure. When systems are designed to accommodate the capabilities, limitations and skills of the people who utilize them, human performance can ensure those systems are optimized and functioning well. When they are not, human performance can be impacted, and the system becomes vulnerable. Effective systems are tolerant of human error or human failure because they have been designed to anticipate and quickly recover from it – and rail systems are no different.Read more

The human factors discipline provides a theoretical knowledge base which can be applied to optimise systems for safety, human performance and wellbeing. These theory, principles, and methods can be applied in at different stages of the lifecycle, from conceptual design of new systems through to their operation and decommissioning. The practical application of HOF also applies to different parts of an organisation from frontline operational staff through to senior management… Read more