Workers reduce accidents when they point at things

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


Japan’s rail system has a well-deserved reputation for being among the very best in the world. An extensive network of tracks moving an estimated 12 billion passengers each year with an on-time performance measured in the seconds makes Japanese rail a precise, highly reliable transportation marvel.

Train conductors, drivers and station staff play an important role in the safe and efficient operation of the lines; a key aspect of which is the variety of physical gestures and vocal calls that they perform while undertaking their duties. While these might strike visitors as silly, the movements and shouts are a Japanese-innovated industrial safety method known as pointing-and-calling; a system that reduces workplace errors by up to 85 percent.

Known in Japanese as shisa kanko, pointing-and-calling works on the principle of associating one’s tasks with physical movements and vocalizations to prevent errors by “raising the consciousness levels of workers”—according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Japan. Rather than rely on a worker’s eyes or habit alone, each step in a given task is reinforced physically and audibly to ensure the step is both complete and accurate.

In the rail context, when train drivers wish to perform a required speed check, they do not simply glance at a display. Rather, the speedometer will be physically pointed at, with a call of “speed check, 80”—confirming the action taking place, and audibly confirming the correct speed. For station staff who ensure the platform-side tracks are free of debris or fallen passengers, a visual scan alone is not sufficient. Instead, the attendant will point down the track and sweep their arm along the length of the platform—eyes following the hand—before declaring all clear. The process repeats as the train departs, ensuring no bags—or passengers—are caught hanging from the train’s closed doors.