Enhancing safety management
HOF regulations, standards and tools

Human Performance
HOF in practice
Home 9 Category: Human Performance

Human Performance

About this topic


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 optimised, 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 utilise 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 variation in human performance because they have been designed to anticipate and quickly recover from impacts to human performance – and rail systems are no different. 

Relevance to Rail

The rail system relies heavily on human performance, whether it’s to operate rolling stock, to signal trains around the network, to manage network disruption, to keep stations open/ operating, to inspect/ maintain rail assets and to produce/ analyse the data that keeps timetables operational and engineering works well-planned. A high level of human performance keeps trains running to time, disruption low and rail systems performing at their best. History has shown that, as with other safety critical industries, the rail industry is vulnerable when human performance is impaired, and the consequences can be catastrophic. It is important, then, that rail organizations incorporate the need to understand and manage the impacts to human performance into their safety management systems and into their HOF programs. 

Approaches and Models

Human performance can be influenced by elements associated with a person, the tasks they are performing and the organization they belong to. These elements are typically referred to as Performance Shaping Factors (PSFs), and include fatigue, workload, situation awareness, stress, physical ergonomics and skills and knowledge. HOF programs within safety critical organizations will typically include a focus on PSFs given the impact they can have on safety and system performance. Understanding and managing the risks associated with PSFs can help reduce the likelihood of human performance being adversely impacted. 

There are numerous methods for evaluating human performance and they differ depending on the performance element being considered. Performance is often measured in terms of the volume of output, task accuracy, error rate, timeliness, presence/absence data and injury rate, to provide some examples. The key, though, is in understanding how performance was impacted, and how it can be optimized. 

For more information on some of the performance-shaping factors that can impact human performance, take a look at the more detailed topic headers under this section. 


The SNCF’s Just & Fair approach

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...

read more

Evaluation of Human Performance – RSSB

What are the key HOF issues? Despite the ongoing efforts from industry to improve safety and performance, there is an indication that we are now seeing diminishing returns in investments into improvements that the rail industry makes. It is important...

read more

Building a Targeted Fatigue Risk Management System

What are the key HOF issues? This case study describes the application of fatigue risk management (FRM) within a rail transport organization in Melbourne, Australia. What did you do? Metro Trains Melbourne (Metro) operates and maintains Melbourne’s...

read more
What are non technical skills?

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....

read more

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,...

read more

Join us

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.