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HSI Topic: Safety

One HSI domain that intersects with Human Factors Engineering is Safety.

Safety factors consist of those system design characteristics that serve to minimize the potential for mishaps causing death or injury to operators, maintainers and supporters or threaten the survival and/or operation of the system. (Defense Acquisition Guidebook, 6.3.4) 

Safety can be addressed early in system development by anticipating and “designing out” potential risks.  Safety can also be addressed through design of work processes and creation of a safety culture (Reason, 1998) to identify and mitigate risks to safety for the life of the system.

Culture of Safety

Safety culture is an environment in which individuals feel comfortable reporting incidents and sharing information that can improve safety, without fear of reprimand. The approach is an integral aspect of improving safety of rail operations. It can also help to minimize issues associated with operator attention and distraction.  

Operators have reported a fear of reprimand for mistakes and rule violations, and the perception that operator negligence often contributes to mistakes. Such fear can inhibit individuals from reporting and sharing information that could be an opportunity to learn and enhance safety of operations. 

To optimize safety, the railroad industry requires a culture in which everyone from the executive level to the operator level feels responsible for safety and takes steps to identify unsafe conditions and intervene to address them. An effective safety culture is characterized by shared emphasis on safety, mutual trust, open communication and incident reporting, and leadership commitment and involvement. 

Creating a culture of safety in the rail industry requires a continuous process of improvement and focus on safety that includes: 

  • Recognizing that operator work is intrinsically complex and hazardous. 
  • Creating an environment that is blame free, and recognizes that accidents are usually due to multiple intersecting factors (e.g., human, technical, organizational) that create conditions for human error. 
  • Encouraging, valuing, and reinforcing reporting of mistakes and near misses and removing fear of reprimand. 
  • Encouraging collaboration across all levels of the organization, from rail dispatcher, to engineer, to senior executive to find solutions to safety concerns.
  • Optimizing work processes by encouraging operators to point out policies and procedure that may create conditions that compromise safety.
  • Committing organizational resources (staff, money, time) to address safety concerns, including those associated with fatigue, distraction, and divided attention. 


  • Defense Acquisition Guidebook (2016). Environment, Safety and Occupational Health (ESOH) Overview. Retrieved from the DAU web site
  • Reason, J. (1988). Achieving a safe culture: theory and practice. Work & Stress. 12(3): 293-306.