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Transport & Logistics

Railway Safety Enhanced by Human Factors

4 Oct 2023, by Kristen Gutierrez

At the helm of one of the world’s most widely used modes of transportation are the people that ensure its security and functionality. Therefore, human factors cannot be underestimated. They encompass everything from the design and operation of equipment to the work environment and organisational culture.

The analysis of human factors involves a comprehensive understanding of human behaviour, capabilities, and limitations, and how these elements interact with the railway environment. Human factors are not limited to the actions of train drivers or maintenance personnel alone; they encompass all those who interact with the railway system, including the passengers themselves.

Despite the technological advancements in railway systems, human intervention is still required to control, maintain, and improve these systems. Therefore, understanding human factors in railway safety is essential in identifying and addressing potential risks, ensuring efficient operations, and promoting a safety-conscious culture.

Human Failure

Human failure be categorised into two types: unintentional errors and deliberate violations of set procedures or rules. Human error in the railway industry can be further subdivided into slips, lapses, and mistakes. Slips occur when an individual intends to perform one action but inadvertently does another. Lapses are forgotten actions or omissions, and mistakes are incorrect decisions based on erroneous information or poor judgement. On the other hand, violations in the railway industry can range from minor infringements to serious breaches of safety regulations.

Understanding human failure involves looking into the underlying factors that lead to these errors or violations. This includes examining the work environment, the individual’s mental state, physical health, and the organisational culture. By understanding it, preventive measures can be taken to mitigate its impact on railway safety.

Resource Management

Human resource management focuses on the selection, training, and professional development of railway personnel. Adequate training ensures that employees are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their duties safely and effectively.

Physical resource management involves the proper maintenance and upgrade of railway infrastructure and equipment. Regular inspections and maintenance checks help identify potential risks and address them before they lead to accidents.

Informational resource management, on the other hand, involves the collection, analysis, and dissemination of safety-related information. This assists in identifying trends, predicting potential hazards, and developing effective safety measures.

Safety Culture & Procedures

A positive organisational climate promotes safety consciousness, encourages adherence to safety procedures, and reduces the likelihood of accidents. A particularly strong shared safety culture also encourages open communication about safety issues, learning from incidents and near misses for the continuous improvement of safety measures.

The HFACS Model

The Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS) is a groundbreaking model in railway safety. It provides a structured framework for analysing human factors and their contribution to accidents and incidents in the railway industry. The HFACS model is based on the premise that human errors and violations are often the result of underlying systemic issues rather than isolated incidents.

The HFACS model categorises human factors into four levels: unsafe acts, preconditions for unsafe acts, unsafe supervision, and organisational influences. Unsafe acts are the errors or violations committed by individuals, while preconditions for unsafe acts include factors such as physical and mental states. Unsafe supervision encompasses factors such as inadequate supervision, inadequate training, and failure to correct known problems. Organisational influences refer to the organisational policies, procedures, and culture that can contribute to said conditions.

Preconditions for Unsafe Acts

Preconditions for unsafe acts refer to the conditions that can lead to errors or violations in railway operations. Environmental factors include factors such as poor lighting, excessive noise, and adverse weather conditions that can impair an individual’s ability to perform tasks safely and effectively. Personal factors refer to factors such as lack of training, lack of experience, and poor communication skills that can increase the likelihood of errors or violations.

Physiological factors include factors such as fatigue, stress, and health issues that can affect an individual’s physical and mental performance. High workload can also lead to attention failure, as it can overwhelm an individual’s cognitive capacity.

Supervisors should be trained to recognise the signs of fatigue, stress, and other human factors that can impair performance and lead to accidents. With regular safety audits and inspections, risk mitigation and compliance procedures can be reinforced when needed.


The future of human factors in railway safety lies in a more integrated and proactive approach. Advancements like automation and data analytics will also play a significant role in the future of human factors in railway safety. However, the problem must be trimmed at its roots by recognising the human factors that shape rail safety and reliability for millions of people worldwide.


Further recommendation:

Informa Corporate Learning are leaders in training, knowledge, and performance improvement, servicing up to 30+ industry sectors. Our Rail Portfolio boasts one of the most well designed, robust training programs in Australia featuring EDSM According to EN50126, EN50128/EN50657 – Safety Critical Software In Rail, and Online Course: Fundamentals of Railway Human Factors & Error Management. See our list of Rail Courses. For more information, please email

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