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HOF in Maintenance work

About this topic


Human and organisation factors can influence performance and safety outcomes associated with maintenance tasks and activity – that is, the tasks associated with the inspection, maintenance and renewal of systems and infrastructure. When these activities are considered from a HOF perspective, attention is given to aspects including:

  • task and workplace design,
  • the tools and systems used in maintenance activities,
  • training, competency, and capability,
  • the safe systems of work that protect maintenance staff from hazards (such as electrification, working from heights and working on or near vehicles or machinery),
  • communication, teamworking and culture,
  • the planning and organization of work, and
  • the processes that facilitate the maintenance tasks themselves.

History has shown that maintenance activities can be vulnerable to human failure. Investigations into incidents such as the BP Texas Refinery fire, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and the Hatfield and Potters Bar train accidents have identified maintenance errors relating to inspection, repair and renewal of rail assets and infrastructure as contributing factors. Human failure in a maintenance context can often remain hidden, creating latent conditions that may not be detected until an incident or accident occurs. For this reason, there is great benefit in integrating HOF principles and approaches to maintenance activities.

Relevance to Rail

Maintenance activity is critical to the performance of a rail system. Within rail organisations, maintenance activity can include the safety critical tasks associated with the routine or reactive inspection, upkeep and renewal of track, signals, structures, electrical assets, and infrastructure and of rolling stock. Effective and efficient rail operations rely on the support of an effective and efficient maintenance strategy. Applying some of the key HOF topics to maintenance activities – such as human-centred design, the planning and design of work and work processes, safety culture and fatigue risk management – can lead to positive outcomes for a rail organisation. HOF tools, methods and approaches can ensure maintenance tasks and activities are designed to account for human limitations and capabilities, that safety, usability, and performance are optimized, that there is resilience to human failure and that the opportunity for latent failure conditions is minimized.

Approaches and Models

There are many tools and methods that might be applicable in a rail maintenance context. The context of analysis – whether designing work or work environments, assessing opportunities for error, evaluating the non-technical skills associated with core tasks, designing tools and equipment, or investigating contributing factors to an incident – will determine the approach taken and the methods applied.


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