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Home 9 Enhancing safety management 9 Category: Return on operating experience

Return on operating experience

About this topic


Feedback or “return on experience” is a key element of effective safety management. From a human factors perspective it is key that this feedback comes from staff and managers who are experts in the tasks being undertaken. More broadly, knowledge is dispersed, often in the minds of the people directly involved in operations, and needs to be effectively shared within the organization. A key use for feedback and this knowledge is to identify ways to improve practices through design, operation and maintenance. These improvements should be considered in the context of looking at ways to improve the wider socio-technical system, recognising the important of job/workplace and organisational factors to effective operations. The implementation of identified Good Practices and any identified operational improvements should help to optimize processes, save time, avoid errors and achieve success through continuous improvement and feeding in to the requirements for future change activities. 

Assessment seeking operation feedback need to recognise that organizations not only generate products and services, but also generate an important intangible that is knowledge. The proper management of this knowledge and its use can make a significant competitive difference. This leads us to consider that, whatever the sector in which an activity is carried out, the organization responsible for it must take into account how to manage and develop its “know-how”, as one of the critical elements in its effectiveness and productivity. 

Relevance to rail 

Once trains, railway signalling systems and stations are designed, they are in operation for many years. A key part of the role for HOF specialists is to understand and improve on the operational practices which develop around these largely fixed systems over time. The recording and improvement of operational practices should not just accept these systems as presented, but identify the weaknesses in them so that the design may be changed or as a minimum these weaknesses can be fed into future designs.  

Approaches and models 

Feedback and staff engagement are key elements of generic SMS guidance. HOF specialists will use a range of approaches to collect data on operational practices from staff through structured methods for observation/interview and data analysis. These data can lead to system changes or the development of procedures which reflect operational best practice. 

Companies will also run processes on close call reporting or process improvement as part of their safety management systems which can address elements of this topic. 

RSSB have published a process approach which front line managers can adopt which aims to allow them to collect and act on data around operational practices, with the specific aim of incident reduction. 

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