How we measure railway health and safety

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Oct/Nov 2014

Ian Prosser, the Office of Rail Regulation’s director of railway safety, encourages the industry to adopt the regulator’s management maturity model (RM3) to help deliver excellence in health and safety risk management.

When people find out that I am the director of railway safety at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), conversation often turns to their experiences as a rail passenger. My two-hour daily rail commute has provided many opportunities to discuss issues that people consider to be a top priority, such as train punctuality or the quality of information provided when there are delays. However, more often than not, I’m asked a simple question about safety on the railway.

How safe is the railway?

There have been significant safety improvements on Britain’s railways in the past decade. After a series of tragic and high-profile incidents, ORR forced the rail industry to tackle the significant safety challenge it faced. In response, a great deal of time and money was invested to elevate the country’s railways to be amongst the safest in Europe. We are amongst the best at managing public and employee safety – partly due to the proactive inspection regime ORR has put in place. European safety statistics show that our passenger and workforce fatality rates are now well below the European average, with Britain ranked best at managing passenger and level crossing safety.

Despite this success, there is absolutely no room for complacency to creep in. ORR recently published an annual safety assessment, which reported that Network Rail must improve its management of the network so that it predicts and prevents problems before they pose a safety risk. Rising numbers of passengers and trains are putting more pressure on the railway, and station and platform safety is beginning to present a major challenge. Workforce safety is still a significant problem, and ORR inspectors continue to seek improvements to lower the safety risk for workers on lines with trains running alongside, to improve train driver management (reducing the number of signals passed at danger) and for safer and faster electrical isolations.

Statistics: only part of the story

Safety statistics are a helpful indicator, but we don’t just rely on them to understand how well Britain’s rail industry is managing safety. This is why ORR inspectors spend most of their time out on the rail network, scrutinising day-to-day operations, performance of rail workers and rail construction companies.

I want the rail industry to proactively manage safety, spotting any potential issues before they become a problem or require an ORR inspector to step in. An organisation can achieve this if they have the right safety culture and excellent health and safety risk management.

Rail Management Maturity Model

To guide the industry to excellence in health and safety risk management, ORR has developed – and urges companies to adopt – our Rail Management Maturity Model, also known as RM3. This is a vital tool for assessing, and managing an organisation’s ability to control health and safety risks and for identifying areas for improvement. It defines what excellent management looks like, including:

  • Leaders inspiring confidence and commitment, safely taking their teams through periods of change.
  • Making full use of employees’ potential and actively involving them to develop shared values and a culture of trust, openness and empowerment.
  • Health and safety policy being used to challenge the organisation to achieve business performance which is in line with the best-performing organisations.

ORR’s inspectors talk regularly with companies across the industry about how they can improve. RM3 sets out criteria for policy, governance and leadership, which describe the steps ORR uses to evaluate a company’s progress – from ad-hoc to excellent safety management capability. Best performing companies are those that have fully integrated health and safety practices into their culture.

We collect evidence during our inspections and investigations by engaging with key personnel at all levels of an organisation and observing their safety management system in action for each of the criteria. This evidence is analysed to determine weaknesses and highlight areas of good practice. It also provides a powerful benchmarking tool for year-on-year comparison. This has led to many organisations across Britain’s rail sector to use RM3 for self-evaluation. It has even received international plaudits and has been implemented by railways in other countries, such as Hong Kong and Dubai.

The future

ORR welcomes feedback on our RM3 tool, as we continue to develop its scope to measure organisational capabilities in areas other than safety, such as asset management or even our own regulatory functions. The use of RM3 to measure capability is driving the rail industry towards having a better understanding and management of risk control, highlighting areas of greatest need and therefore driving continuous improvements.

As the combined safety and economic regulator, ORR has approved dedicated funding for the next five years to improve the safety and performance of Britain’s railways. More than £250m has been allocated for better track worker protection and £100m made available to close level crossings.

Our ongoing programme of targeted inspections will focus on station management, electrical and worker safety, level crossings and the condition of tracks, bridges and tunnels, to ensure that there is no compromise on health and safety.

I am committed to making sure the rail industry builds on the work of the past decade, improving safety for passengers, for people using level crossings and for the thousands of staff who work on our railways every day.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


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