Transport safety and Human Factors: SAFEMODE, more synergy between sky and sea

Transport safety and Human Factors: SAFEMODE, more synergy between sky and sea

In the transport sector Human Factors are now part of risk management processes. Aviation has led the way in adopting and disseminating a safety culture that is also ‘built’ around human performance. However, there is a problem of uniformity. First of all, it concerns the language of accident reports, and in general the descriptions of safety-related events; but also the methods of collecting and analysing data on how humans contribute to accidents and emergencies. 


Europe calls for more synergy and urges all aviation and maritime actors and organisations to adopt the same approach in assessing the role of Human Factors in safety. It also demands that they develop equally effective human-related risk models in each domain. Among the projects it is funding in this regard, one of the most important is SAFEMODE, coordinated by Deep Blue; certainly the largest in terms of economic investment in the last ten years, with a budget of around ten million euros. 



The project involves more than thirty partners including airline and shipping companies, universities and research institutes, and air and rail traffic control and safety organisations. 


“We are bringing together worlds that do not normally ‘talk’ to each other, aviation, maritime and also rail, to standardise the way in which Human Factors enter into risk assessment and thus into the design of systems and procedures.”


Simone Pozzi, CEO of Deep Blue explains that this ‘harmonisation’ is necessary today, and will be even more so in the future. Technological innovation is changing and making different transport sectors more similar. Examples are increasing automation and the adoption of remotely controlled aircraft or ships. Emerging human-related risks will therefore have to be described, anticipated and managed in the same way. 


“We started from the descriptions and data related to accidents provided to us by the airlines and shipping companies in the project. We are now thinking about how to harmonise these using the available taxonomy and analysis tools. If they are not suitable, we should rethink them in order to set up a coherent descriptive and classification system. Understanding what kind of data we have and how to standardise it will also serve international regulators, such as EASA or EMSA. It will suggest whether and how to change the principles and guidelines of pre- and post-accident analysis, which specify what kind of data should be collected and how to analyse it, to prevent these accidents from happening again.”



By the end of the project (May 2022), it will have releases a public database (SHIELD) available to researchers, transport operators and policy makers. The database will first contain a classification of risks and their probability of occurrence. Then, a description of the technical, human and procedural variables that contribute to a risk situation. Finally, the parameters that influence the performance of human operators. 


“SHIELD is a tool modelled on Nasa’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, a semi-public database of aviation accidents that is accessible to safety researchers,” continues Pozzi. “The European Community wants to build a similar electronic archive, but one that encompasses all transport.”

Examples of best practice for the integration of Human Factors into security identified in each sector will also be added to the database, together with risk models and ‘instructions’ for a human-centred design of tools and procedures. All this will come together in a Human Risk-Informed Design Framework (HURID)


Carlo Abate, data analysis expert at Deep Blue explains that it is a kind of ‘magic box’ that contains useful resources and tools for those involved in designing systems and operations, for security managers, for regulators. Here they will find answers to their questions. For example, “What accidents have occurred to date with these types of procedures, systems, interfaces? What most influences human performance in this type of operation? What is considered best practice in this area? Which models and tools should be used? How much do Human Factors count?” And so on.



A moving aircraft creates turbulence that can be dangerous for other aircraft, especially during take-off and landing but also during cruise. Controllers regulate air traffic in such a way as to minimise risks. Therefore, combining a warning system that alerts them to the danger of an aircraft crossing the contrail of another aircraft, good communication with the crew, and specific indicators available to the crew would improve emergency management. The design of prototypes of this warning system for air traffic controllers and cabin crew is one of eight case studies in the project, coordinated by EUROCONTROL, to test the validity of HURID’s principles and tools. 


Also in aviation, Embraer, a company that manufactures aircraft and offers aeronautical services, will coordinate another case study. In it, HURID’s resources will be used to improve the management of an emergency landing of an unmanned aircraft (fully automated or remotely controlled) by identifying the tasks of human operators on the ground and the procedures through which they interact with the aircraft and communicate with air traffic controllers. 




Moving into the maritime domain, HURID will help develop a human-machine interface for driving a remotely controlled cargo ship. Whether and how much better the interface will be than an existing one, developed by researchers at Wuhan University of Technology, which is leading this case study, will be determined by recording neuro-physiological parameters (e.g. EEG) of the remote operator to assess workload in different scenarios (a damage to the system; while trying to avoid a collision without traffic; or with vessel traffic). 


Another case study, again in the maritime sector but under the supervision of the Istanbul Technical University, will investigate the role of Human Factors and human response in emergencies using collision simulators (simulating real-life incidents), so as to verify the effectiveness of HURID and gather feedback to improve it.


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