The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), on behalf of the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), has just published a national standard on human factors management.
The standard was developed primarily to provide railway operators with the minimum requirements to manage human factors and has been adopted by the RSR Board, making compliance to the standard mandatory to all railway operators in South Africa.
As defined in the National Railway Safety Regulator Act, “human factors” mean factors which include the perceptual, physical and mental capabilities of people and the interaction of individuals with their job and working environments, the influence of equipment and system design on human performance, and the organisational characteristics that influence safety-related behaviour at work.
The purpose of human factors management is to reduce occurrences attributable to human error by optimising human capital and by mitigating the risks associated with human factors in the workplace to acceptable levels. The management of human factors is a dynamic, risk-driven process and must form an integral part of each operator’s safety management system.
The standard is applicable to all employees undertaking safety-related work in the railway environment. This includes all functions and activities that have an impact on safe railway operations and includes safety-critical work which refers to all functions and activities related to the authorisation and control of the movement of rolling stock.
The requirements covered in this standard have an overlap with other components such as recruitment, training, human resource issues, health and medical issues as well as an overlap with occupational health and safety. Therefore the standard makes the necessary normative reference to the relevant national legislation and standards. These include among others the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Employment Equity Act, Labour Relations Act, Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act, National Road Traffic Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The standard is divided into three broad categories which cover the human-system interface (design issues), physical environmental factors, and organisational and psychological factors.
The human-system interface refers to the application of human factors information to match tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments to the physical and psychological capabilities and limitations of people and seeks to safeguard safety, health, and well-being whilst optimising efficiency and performance. The potential effects of poor design include impaired cognitive functioning, impaired vision, changes in reaction time, burnout, stress, fatigue, drowsiness, bone, joint, muscular, vascular, neurological disorders, all of which could lead ultimately to unsafe work practices.
It is recommended that operators use design specialists where necessary to ensure the adequate and efficient design of tools, equipment, workstations and machinery.
Physical environmental factors include noise, vibration, lighting, thermal environment and hazardous substances. Excessive or inadequate exposure to these could result in immediate or delayed health effects, fatigue, impaired vision and cognitive functioning which could eventually result in unsafe work practices.
Operators are required to conduct surveys to determine the impact of these physical environmental factors on safe railway operations. These include noise surveys to ensure that safety-critical communication is not compromised and that the hearing of the employees is not impaired. Lighting surveys are required to determine the level of lighting required to perform the required safety-related tasks safely. Good lighting whether natural or artificial has an important role to play in promoting health and safety at work as good lighting assists both in the identification of hazards and reduces the likelihood of visual fatigue and discomfort.
The last category comprises “organisational and psychological” factors which include: recruitment and selection, training, medical surveillance, fitness for duty, chronic medical conditions, medication, pregnancy, employee wellness, substance abuse, fatigue management and stress management.
Multi-faceted burdens could result from chronic and acute medical conditions, substance abuse, fatigue caused by insufficient rest periods, and excessive work and personal stress that could lead to temporary or permanent inability to work, thus impacting safe railway operations. Thus railway operators need to develop adequate policies and procedures to address each requirement in this standard, to ensure safe railway operations.
The fitness-for-duty requirement is all-inclusive in that it touches every other requirement in the standard. Employees undertaking safety-related work need to be fit for duty. This means: physically and mentally healthy, well rested, alert, managed stress levels, free from substances that could impair faculties, free from any disabling medical conditions and adequately trained and competent. From a health perspective, the fitness-for-duty concept relates to the continuity of performing safety-related work as well as from a managerial aspect on the individual’s fitness while on duty and the prevention of unsafe railway occurrences.
Railway operators are urged to conduct education and awareness of each requirement in this standard as well as relevant legislation, policies and procedures in respect of their employees undertaking safety-related work.
The concept of dual responsibility is also emphasised throughout the standard and is in line with the “duty of care” principle. The latter requires employers to take reasonable steps to ensure their employees’ health and safety are not impaired due to the work undertaken. The employees also have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care in the execution of their work. This mutual responsibility is crucial in ensuring safe railway operations.
The RSR is recognised by the SABS as a standards development organisation and the relationship is managed via a memorandum of understanding (MoU). The standard was developed consistent with national legislation for standards development and was facilitated by the RSR. The working group and technical committee was represented by the RSR, SABS, employee representative organisations, industry experts on operational issues and subject matter experts.
SANS 3000-4 forms part of a suite of standards developed for the RSR. Other standards developed include those prescribing the minimum requirements for safety management systems, technical standards on rolling stock, track, civil and electrical infrastructure.