Information published on 3 April 2012 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 285.

Human and Organisational Factors: New approach to managing railway safety

  • Research
  • Safety
  • Human Factors

Companies invest significantly in safety, mainly through the implementation of regulations and technical tools. It would seem, however, that these efforts are no longer sufficient to ensure that the companies concerned continue to improve their performance rates. It is therefore necessary to fully integrate human and organisational aspects into the system in order to improve industrial safety performance.

Against this backdrop, Virginie Papillault, Senior Advisor for Human and Organisational Factors at UIC, has completed a two-year (part-time) Executive Master’s specialising in the “Human and Organisational Factors of Industrial Safety Management”. The course, accredited by the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles françaises (French association of engineering and business schools), was jointly delivered by two Grandes Ecoles: ESCP-Europe and Mines ParisTech.

As an integral part of railway operations, safety – along with the consideration now given to Human and Organisational Factors in managing it – is an area in which UIC can usefully develop its knowledge, in particular through field-based efforts and research activities, enabling UIC members to benefit from the results achieved.

This research, which was written up into and submitted as a vocational thesis, focuses on the “Safety and performance model: benchmark of companies in the European railway sector”. The thesis centres on two hypotheses: the first to compare companies’ safety performance levels, and the second to examine how these companies implement safety in practice. In other words, the aim is to observe the way in which companies apply and “make” safety.

Above and beyond existing regulations and standards, the conclusions of this work underline that companies henceforth need to increase their awareness of the vital role played by human nature and organisational arrangements in safety management.

During her research under Denis Besnard, Thesis Director at the Mines ParisTech engineering school, Virginie used a method enabling her to collect field data from four UIC members. This data put her hypotheses on a sound basis that was entirely relevant to the issues addressed by UIC and its members.

This specialised Master’s has enabled Virginie to develop new skills in this area and to acquire a valuable network of contacts from large French and international industrial companies such as EDF, Areva, Total, GDF Suez, BASF, EFS, SIAAP, etc. These new links will enable UIC to make progress in the area of safety, which it wishes to understand from a more systemic perspective, through multi-sector exchange on the subject and experience-sharing between the network’s members.

Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, UIC Director-General, is delighted with the dedication Virginie has shown to the subject over the last two years, alongside her work as Senior Advisor. “UIC sees the importance of helping high-potential staff develop skills through study programmes, where the knowledge and know-how acquired also benefit the association. This is especially the case when the work finds particular resonance in UIC bodies and working groups and sheds new light on the topic, in the interest of the sector itself. I hope Virginie’s work will be disseminated and will provide a fresh boost to the work of the UIC Safety Platform”.

The thesis (written in French*), entitled “Safety and performance model: benchmark of companies in the European railway sector”, is available on request from Virginie Papillault. *English version currently being translated.

For more information please contact Virginie Papillault, Senior Advisor for Human and Organisational Factors: papillault@uic.org

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