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Human Functions in Safety - Developing a framework of goals, human functions and safety relevant activities for railway socio-technical systems

Lookup NU author(s): Dr David GolightlyORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


This paper presents a framework to express the role of people in establishing and maintaining system safety. The Human Functions in Safety (HFiS) framework has been developed for the railway context, describing safety-related activity within functions, and how this is shaped by overall organisational goals and contextual factors. Analysing human functions in this way moves from the reactive, accident-analytical approach that is commonly used in rail, by instead emphasising the human activity that maintains safety. The development and first application of HFiS involved three iterative stages of 1) mapping requirements to the safety literature to determine the concepts of the framework; 2) collating and synthesising data from the rail domain to determine the content of the framework; 3) review within the research team and with subject matter experts. The output from applying HFiS to railways is a detailed description of 66 human functions carried out by wide-ranging frontline staff, and the associated activities to maintain safety. This covered different types of goals (systemic, functional and individual) that shape work and specified the contextual factors that influence safety. Interrelations between human functions across the rail system are also identified. As well as supporting the understanding of rail safety, HFiS demonstrates how safety concepts can be combined and potentially applied to other large socio-technical systems. Specific guidance is presented on generic applications of HFiS concepts, including a set of generic functions with the potential to inform application of HFiS in other domains

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ryan B, Golightly D, Pickup L, Reinhartz S, Atkinson S, Dadashi N

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Safety Science

Year: 2021

Volume: 140

Online publication date: 29/04/2021

Acceptance date: 24/03/2021

Date deposited: 25/03/2021

ISSN (print): 0925-7535

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.ssci.2021.105279


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