Human error comes in three forms: slips (unintentional actions or misperception), lapses (forgetting to act) and mistakes (making a wrong decision). What is common across all three types of error is that they are unintentional – you don’t set out to get it wrong or break a rule. While human factors focusses mainly on the factors in the task and environment that led to an error, we can also reduce errors by using little tricks and tips to keep us right (so-called ‘error prevention techniques’).
The best type of error prevention technique is developing good habits and routines. If you make a strong habit of always double checking something important, like double checking a signal before pulling away from a platform or dispatching a train, then even when you are distracted it is more likely you will automatically do that double check. Risk triggered commentary, or talking aloud, is probably the most well-known technique for helping to prevent errors in train driving. It works by making you focus more consciously on what you are doing, drawing your attention to the task and making a stronger memory of what you are doing. It doesn’t work for everyone though, and some people might find that it actually makes their driving worse. Other examples of error prevention techniques are using checklists or just following good professional practice like coasting on yellow signals whenever possible.
The Driver Reminder Appliance (DRA) is an example of a device to help prevent errors but is most effective if removing it is always associated with checking the signal. Making sure you never remove the DRA without checking for a proceed aspect helps to form a strong habit that will help keep you checking the signal even when you might be distracted by other events.
Anything you do to help you avoid errors can be called an error prevention technique. Even if your day to day life, you might have a certain place that you keep your keys that helps stop you losing them every time you want to leave the house. You probably brush your teeth as part of your getting up and going to bed routines, and having this routine make it less likely that you will forget to brush your teeth. Most people use a timer when they put something in the oven to remind them to take it out at the right time. If I have to bring something to work with me in the morning, I put it in front of the front door the night before. All of these are error prevention techniques, although we don’t usually call them that, and the same ideas apply to work as to normal life. If you need to remember to do something all the time, develop a routine or habit to help with that (like keeping your keys in the same place or having a routine for brushing your teeth). If you need to remember something as a once off, try changing something or making a note. If you find yourself becoming bored or your mind starting to wander, try doing some light exercises. For train drivers, this might be during station stops or even getting out of the cab for a brief stretch. If you don’t have many stops, try changing position or singing to yourself as you drive. Different things will work for different people, and some techniques that start off quite effective for you might stop working overtime. Talk to your colleagues about what they do to keep themselves error free – they may not call them error prevention techniques but everybody will have developed good habits and tricks and some of them may work for you as well.
Nora Balfe (Irish Rail)