Understanding the human factors contribution to railway accidents and incidents in Australia

Accid Anal Prev. 2008 Sep;40(5):1750-7. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2008.06.013. Epub 2008 Jul 9.


Forty rail safety investigation reports were reviewed and a theoretical framework (the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System; HFACS) adopted as a means of identifying errors associated with rail accidents/incidents in Australia. Overall, HFACS proved useful in categorising errors from existing investigation reports and in capturing the full range of relevant rail human factors data. It was revealed that nearly half the incidents resulted from an equipment failure, most of these the product of inadequate maintenance or monitoring programs. In the remaining cases, slips of attention (i.e. skilled-based errors), associated with decreased alertness and physical fatigue, were the most common unsafe acts leading to accidents and incidents. Inadequate equipment design (e.g. driver safety systems) was frequently identified as an organisational influence and possibly contributed to the relatively large number of incidents/accidents resulting from attention failures. Nearly all incidents were associated with at least one organisational influence, suggesting that improvements to resource management, organisational climate and organisational processes are critical for Australian accident and incident reduction. Future work will aim to modify HFACS to generate a rail-specific framework for future error identification, accident analysis and accident investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / statistics & numerical data*
  • Australia
  • Equipment Failure
  • Ergonomics
  • Humans
  • Railroads*