The KTP will test the human and financial effectiveness of incorporating non-technical skills (NTS) into the competence management systems (CMS) of safety critical roles in the rail industry – both in the UK and internationally. It comes at a prescient time for the industry, with international news recently dominated by serious rail incidents: 79 lives were lost in the Northern Spain rail crash last July and four lives in New York in December. Both have been linked to driver shortcomings in the crucial non-technical skill of situational awareness, in terms of interrupted concentration and driver distraction.

So what exactly are non-technical skills? The RSSB provides a summary: NTS are the cognitive, social and personal resource skills that complement technical skills and contribute to safe and efficient task performance by helping people to anticipate, identify and mitigate against errors. Individually they can be broken down into seven key categories and 26 skills. The categories are: situational awareness (covering all aspects of concentration); conscientiousness (including a positive attitude towards rules and procedures); communication; decision making and action; cooperation and working with others; workload management; and self-management (including motivation and initiative).

NTS training is proven to bring substantial and sustained benefits: Canadian Pacific Railway reported a 46 per cent decrease in human-caused incidents following the implementation of its NTS Programme in 2002; in military aviation, reports suggest that NTS programmes have achieved an 81 per cent reduction in the occurrence of incidents; and Arcadia Alive’s own experience with a major UK Toc is that its Driver Support Programme – an intensive four-day NTS programme – has produced a 93 per cent decrease in driver incidents up to three years after the training.

Not incorporated in UK rail

In stark contrast to technical skills training, NTS are not routinely incorporated into the UK rail industry CMS. This means there is no single standardised industry approach to ensuring employees in safety critical roles are fully trained and kept up to date with the latest developments in NTS, or that their NTS training meets the specific demands presented by their individual role and career stage. Instead, each organisation is responsible for defining and implementing its own NTS training, and making its own decisions about who it gives this training to. Sometimes it can be reactive rather than proactive and is not tailored to the individual needs of the person or role. This inevitably results in significant differences in the training received by those in safety critical roles – as well as inevitable gaps which could ultimately compromise employee and passenger safety.

The KTP seeks to address these inconsistencies. It will provide the industry with a clear way forward for addressing NTS across all rail safety critical roles. This will be achieved through working closely with rail industry representatives to test the usefulness and value of incorporating NTS into the CMS of safety critical roles in the rail industry. In so doing, the KTP will answer the following questions:

• does the incorporation of NTS into CMS systems reduce incidents and accidents and raise performance – both from a human and financial perspective?
• do certain NTS contribute disproportionately to safety performance so require prioritisation over others?
• how can effective NTS be delivered with minimum disruption to operations?
• how can NTS competency be assessed?

Recognising vulnerabilities

Capitalising on The University of Nottingham’s internationally acclaimed knowledge of rail human factors and Arcadia Alive’s wealth of experience delivering NTS and human factors programmes, the KTP will ultimately lead to a safer workforce consisting of individuals who, whether they are directly involved in safety or provide a supporting role, will be able to recognise their own vulnerabilities whatever the situation, and be confident in proactively addressing these using a range of tools and techniques that can flex and change according to their career stage.

The project’s scope reaches beyond the UK rail industry, with plans to extend the learnings to international rail industries and other safety critical domains where operators are required to maintain high levels of concentration and situational awareness, for example oil and gas industries, the military and commercial driving.

A formidable team

The KTP team consists of a formidable mix of experience and skills: Dr Ruth Madigan is the KTP associate who will be at the chalk face of the KTP’s collaborative work with the industry. She recently completed a PhD in ‘Learning to drive: from hazard detection to hazard handling’, the recommendations of which are currently being considered by the Irish government. She has lectured in human factors and applied cognitive psychology, covering topics including human error, situation awareness, perception, attention, judgement, and decision making.

Dr David Golightly is a senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham Human Factors Research Group (HFRG) and has led human factors research in both academia and commercial organisations, including projects on signaller situation awareness, track-worker safety and intelligent infrastructure. David currently leads Nottingham’s involvement in the EU FP7 On-Time project, which covers driver skills and driver advisory technology.

Sarah Sharples, Professor of Human Factors at the University of Nottingham has been a grant holder on a number of industrial, government and EU funded projects, including a long-term programme of research for Network Rail examining implications, design and implementation of novel interfaces for railway control and use of rail simulation for human factors research.

Richard Madders is managing director of Arcadia Alive, a human factors and behavioural change consultancy that has delivered NTS training to the rail industry for more than 12 years. Madders has more than 14 years’ experience of delivering major change programmes nationally and internationally and has designed, developed and delivered human factors and behavioural safety programmes for the UK rail industry since joining Arcadia Alive in 2007.

Said Madders: ‘The benefits for the rail industry will be huge, especially in light of the imminent technological change and driver training challenges presented by the European Rail Traffic Management System, and the unremitting pressure on Toc’s to continually improve their safety performance while reducing their operational costs.’

The project will take just over two years. The starting point for Dr Madigan has been to recently establish an industry advisory group that will ensure the complex needs of all safety critical (and supporting) roles and industry experts are addressed. The group consists of a diverse cross-section of industry representatives: Toc’s, Foc’s, Network Rail, the RSSB, the Office of Rail Regulation and rail unions. The group is currently working collaboratively to fully define the project requirements and to share existing data and knowledge. The NTS safety model that comes from this painstaking work with the group will be piloted in 2014 with a selected Toc before launching in early 2016.

If you are a member of a rail organisation and interested in being part of the industry advisory group, or would like to find out more about the KTP project, then contact Dr Ruth Madigan at