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HOF in practice
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HOFs in practice

About this topic


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. 

Relevance to Rail 

There are many areas of application for HOF in rail; examples are the application of HOF principles to the design of cabs or traffic management systems, and the design of alarms. Applying HOF in cases such as these helps to identify where safety and performance issues could arise during operation, and design those issues out as much as possible. Maintenance activities are critical to the operation of the railway and HOF methods and approaches can help ensure that maintenance tasks and activities are designed to account for human limitations and capabilities. A very specific area of application for rail is the understanding and mitigation of SPAD risk, particularly through identification of some of the factors that influence SPADs. 

Approaches and models 

The key principles of applying ergonomics and human factors can be found in ISO-26800 and are: 

  1. An ergonomics approach to design shall be human-centred
  2. The target population shall be identified and described
  3. Design shall take full account of the nature of the task and its implications for the human
  4. The physical, organisational, social, and legal environments in which a system, product, service or facility is intended to be used shall be identified and described, and their range defined.  




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 collaboration setting becomes apparent that enables both, automation-driven benefits in terms of capacity or energy consumption and benefits in terms of efficient human intervention in case of operational uncertainty, where human decision-making and communication skills are key to safety.

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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 introduction of Automatic Train Operation and other automated systems. The key in helping an operator to work at their best is to find a way to optimise their mental workload – which may mean thinking differently about automation.

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Automation Myth Busting Paper#4 Teaming between humans and automation

Due to technological advances, automation is nowadays no longer regarded only as a tool for humans but, due to the execution of complex tasks, is increasingly discussed in terms of a team member. This article describes how successful teaming can optimally be realized so that the strengths of the human operator and the automation are brought to bear. The decisive factor is a human-centred work design that focuses on the needs of human operators. An example from air traffic control is used and findings are transferred to the handling of existing interlocking technologies in the rail industry. First tendencies of teamwork between signallers and automation are already emerging today. In the future, this new form of teamwork can be further developed with the help of the introduced model on the key aspects for a successful teaming between humans and automation.

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Safety Reporting at Renfe

What are the key HOF issues? The Strategic Plan of Renfe contains an ambitious transformation programme based on digitalisation and safety culture. A key aspect of the programme is the development of a confidential reporting system of near misses that...

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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...

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HOF in SPADs at Irish Rail

What are the key HOF issues? The immediate cause of signals passed at danger is often a lapse in concentration by a driver on approach to the signal. This can mean that the obvious focus for an investigation is on the actions (or inactions) of the...

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