En este blog compartiremos nuestras publicaciones sobre la seguridad, su prevención vía la ergonomía desde una perspectiva preventiva y sistémica del hombre en situación de trabajo, tema que abordamos tanto en la industria aeronáutica como en otros sistemas críticos desde el plano de la seguridad como el transporte ferroviario, los eventos y shows con publico, la medicina, etc. Los invitamos a comentarlas y a hacernos las preguntas que deseen.


Ergonomics in Argentina´s Railway System

Ergonomics and Human Factors community has been working and publishing in this domain for the las 30 years (Wilson, 2005). Maybe due to accidents, maybe more because research in this field in Europe is quite developed, maybe because of researchers who dare enter these systems and try to solve the safety and reliability related issues, but Europe and the USA are in advance in these activities of research compared to Argentina. A preventive policy should be developped based on research considering the late accidents having taken place in aviation (Lapa and Austral, late 1990´s) and in other public events like Cromañón (more than 400 people attending a rock concert were killed during a fire). Railway system should also be concerned.

As a matter of fact, during march the 8th 1981, a train going from a tourist city of Argentina called Mar del Plata to Buenos Aires, hit a freight train at the Brandsen station. 34 people passed away that day, among which there was Isabel Santa Coloma and her two sisters, teir little brother having survived by miracle. Isabel was the older sister, she was 12 years.

Like this accident, many other events occur in Argentina´s public transportation system everyday, going from incidents to accidents with more or less consequences on people´s safety.
Some weeks ago, a bus was hit by a train at a rail barrier and yesterday again, a train of Sarmiento line and TBA company has hit against the train station with more than 50 people dead and 600 injured.

None of these events are really investigated by University´s experts on human factors (especially ergonomics approach), and our concern today is to show how necessary this participation is in different phases of the railway life cycle. We extend this reflection to aviation and maritime domains, where human factors in the country are almost totally absent at each level of both system´s life cycle.

On the other hand, context doesn´t help ergonomics to be developed in this domain. In fact, Argentina doesn´t participate in train design projects. Nevertheless, the infrastructure and train operations are a matter of local management and control. From that perspective, there are many occasions to intervene and study the different aspects that human factors community study in Europe or other developped countries. There are also good ocasions to redesign previously design cabins, for instance. We will start from the main domains that have been studied in United Kingdom, and will compare to what could be done in our country. This a our way to aknowlegde what has to be done, and on the other hand to recognize all the work that has been done in the UK, which we are glad and proud (authors of that work are our collegues!) to spread to all the blog readers today.

Research on Human Participation in Railway Life Cycle: The UK example

The main reference for these studies is the book "Rail Human Factors. Supporting the Integrated Railway" published by Ashgate in 2005 and edited by John Wilson and Beverley Norris, from University of Nottingham, by Theresa Clarke, from Network Rail, and by Ann Mills, from Rail Safety and Standards Board.

As the books says, "every area of ergonomics/human factors is covered in this book: physical design of work and equipment in maintenance; cognitive ergonomics in driving, signalling and control; organizational and social ergonomics in the way teams are formed, plans are made and organizations are structured and run. The book is the definitive guide for all those concerned with making railways safer, more reliable, of higher quality and more efficient. It will be essential reading for policy-makers, researchers and industry around the world."

The list of covered topics is the following:


Possible developements in Argentina

From the covered topics, we believe human factors research in Argentina could develop them all, even though train design activities are absent in our context. We believe the detailed topics on which we believe Argentina must urgently work considering accident and incident rates are :

Systems views of rail human factors : why accidents occur? Argentina is still in a human error- centered accident approach, blaming blunt end operators usually for accidents when these should be understood as organizational and systemic.

Driver models and performance : there are many theories concerning driver´s behavior in other domains like road driving, but our motor man aren´t well studied yet. Train worker´s Unions should be integrated in these researchs in order to be more participative and better accepted by workers.

Train and cab design : this field could be also developped mainly in cabin design, when trains are adapted and recycled. These oportunities of designing the entire cabin are unique to take into account the lessons learnes form passed experiences.

Signalling, control center and station design : ergonomists should be integrated in this kind of design projects

Human error and reliability - Workload, situation awareness, team working : research on the causes and human contribution to accidents should be developped and should be centered on all the actors of the system as regulating authorities, accident investigators, managers, etc. The ergonomic approach should be developed because this one intends to conciliate both performance and health, a necessary scope for realistic applications.
Maintenance planning and work : this is a legendary debt in Argentina´s industry in general. Let´s remember Jorge Luis Borges´s words: "Argentina looks like Europe, but the only difference is when you open a tap, whater doesn´t come out of it" The local writer had detected lack of maintenance culture in our country and expressed his diagnosis in that ironic way.
We believe this diagnosis should be followed by a revolutionary policy if railway transportation system wanted to be improved in terms of reliability. We are ready to help whith our technical support in that project if it ever was decided and developed.

Other domains could be developed too:

• Safety climate and safety culture
• Timetabling and planning
• Passenger comfort and behaviour
• Level crossings
• Trespass and vandalism
• Ergonomics standards and guidelines
• Human Factors integration

We only expect someone in the concerned organizations to read this kind of proposals, and help us help them to redesign the railway system in order to male it more reliable and safe for all the workers ant trains users satisfaction.

A special thanks to John Wilson and Beverley Norris, both based at the University of Nottingham for all their inspiring work on ergonomics in this domain. We hope Argentina will learn form their work and from other colleagues contributions to this field of knowledge, and that this humble comunication could act as a bridge between our two unfairly and artificially divided nations.

Note : the author of this little note and fo the blog has worked in train maintenance projects both in France and Spain, as an ergonomist working mainly in the context of incident reporting systems design.