Managing human factors in railway operations

Railway accident statistics show that the majority of railway accidents reported were due to human error. Human error is the result of either an action or inaction that does not produce the desired outcome as outlined by a set of rules or procedures. Ultimately, human error is a deviation from intention, expectation or desirability. Here are some tips for railway companies and railway workers to enable them to become better at managing human factors in railway operations.


Attitude is an important element in managing human factors that can lead to error. A person's perspective or attitude toward a specified target, and their personal approach (way of saying and doing things), directly impacts their ability to do it safely.                                                                               

To improve safety and attitude, railway companies should always consult with their workers to:

  • Challenge worker pre-conceptions and assumptions about their work.
  • Engage in thoughtful conversation about process and procedure.
  • Prevent rationalization for doing things that are unsafe and against the rules and procedures.
  • Identify and eliminate waste and non-value added activities.


Confidence is generally described as a state of being. When a railway worker is knowledgeable and confident about their activities and responsibilities they can perform their duties safely. Errors are more likely to occur when workers perform tasks they are confused or uncertain about.

To improve railway safety and employee confidence, railway companies should always consult and encourage their workers to:

  • Question unexpected conditions.
  • Question when something expected does NOT occur.
  • Stop work and seek clarification if confused or in doubt of a task before proceeding.
  • Assist and report workers who are confused and uncertain of their tasks.


Understanding is created by providing knowledge of a task sufficient enough to support safe worker behavior. In the simplest terms, to perform an activity safely you must have a clear understanding of what is required to do it and why it's important.

To improve railway safety and employee understanding, railway companies should always:

  • Provide workers with adequate training platform to enable them to perform their tasks;
  • Provide flexible training to meet individual needs of the worker and their personal skill set;
  • Test employees in theory and observe their understanding during the performance of their tasks;
  • Provide workers with feedback to reinforce their knowledge and understanding.


Strong communication – whether conveying information by speech, visuals, signals or writing -- is imperative to managing a safe operation.

To improve railway safety and employee communication, railway companies should always:

  • Provide employees with tools and systems that allow for the accurate and concise transfer of information;
  • Ensure that employees are trained on the communication system;
  • Ensure that the communication intended is the communication received;
  • Ensure that messages sent are acknowledged and understood.
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