Enhancing the integration of NTS into competence management systems for rail safety-critical roles

What are the key HOF issues?

Non-technical skills (NTS) are the cognitive, social and personal resource skills that complement technical skills, and contribute to safe task performance[1]. NTS have been formalised in GB rail since 2012 and progress has been made in integrating NTS into GB rail organisations. However, a consultation by RSSB found that it can be difficult for individuals to have a consistent understanding of what NTS are needed and how they relate to the technical skills carried out by rail safety-critical task. This means that the benefits of NTS have not been fully realised.

What did you do?

RSSB undertook a research project to review and revise the existing RSSB NTS framework.

  • Phase 1: A critical evaluation of the existing RSSB NTS framework and the GB rail industry’s approach to integrating NTS into competence management systems. This involved a review of scientific literature and interviews with representatives from other safety-critical industries and academics who work in the NTS sphere.
  • Phase 2: The revision of the existing NTS framework and development of new NTS descriptions for three frontline roles (drivers, controllers and rolling stock maintenance staff). This involved job analysis (through observation of and interviews with relevant staff), classification of the behavioural data gathered, and end user testing of the outputs.

What were the results?

Phase 1 found that the concepts in the RSSB NTS framework are overall consistent with the approach taken in other industries. However, the framework could be improved by making the NTS behavioural markers more prominent, to aid clear understanding and reduce misinterpretation.

Phase 2 produced a revised version of the NTS framework to address the findings of phase 1, using simple and clear behavioural language. It also produced role-specific NTS supporting materials to support the observation, measurement and develop of NTS for drivers, controllers and rolling stock maintenance roles. These are designed to illustrate the link between NTS and technical tasks.

GB rail companies are beginning to use the new materials, for example by briefing operational managers, and embedding the NTS behavioural descriptions into procedural documents to make it clearer what staff are expected to do and how.

[1] Flin, R. & O’Connor, P. (2017). Safety at the sharp end: A guide to non-technical skills. CRC Press.

Author: Anisha Tailor, Principal Human Factors Specialist, RSSB