Maintaining and improving operational practices
About this topic
A program of Improving Operational Practices should aim to collect and preserve knowledge that is dispersed, often in the minds of the people directly involved in operations and that, due to difficulties in communication, may not be effectively shared within the organization. It should also aim to assess and identify ways to improve those operational practices. These improvements should be considered in the context of looking at ways to improve the wider socio-technical system, recognising the importance of job/workplace and organisational factors to effective operations.
For this, the work, knowledge and actions carried out by people in their daily work must be collected and assessed, allowing the generation of empirically valid, transferable and useful knowledge. This work needs to accept that operational tasks as specified in procedures are often different to how work is carried out in practice. 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 in the results of an organization.
These types of assessment 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 make a significant competitive difference, becoming, in most cases, almost the only advantage over economic and technical resources available to all competitors. 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 human factors 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 in to future designs.
Approaches and models
Human Factors 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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