‘Ten workers’ lives saved by the railway’s use of proactive safety measures’

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

Keith Morey of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s Railway Group describes recent safety advances but argues that more can be done.

With positive behavioural culture and a fully informed society, the above is the type of headline we should see in our media: unfortunately good news does not sell newspapers as well as bad news.

It is hard to believe that some of the original roles on the railway can be traced back to 1825 and are still present 190 years later.

We still have track patrollers walking routes to visually ensure that everything looks okay; lookouts (originally flagmen) to provide protection for gangs working on the line; and train drivers who need to know the route and stop at the correct place in the station.

Things have changed with technology, electric and diesel have replaced steam trains, old signal boxes have been replaced by modern power boxes and there is now much more modern plain line track along with switches and crossings.

Those working on the railway have also evolved from single operating companies through to the Big Four from 1923, before nationalisation and then de-regulation.

The railway today is made up of just as many companies as it was 100 years ago. There is however a better understanding of accidents, incidents and their causation and investigation. This has helped make the modern railway so much safer.

Progress – but not enough

Within the last five years the railways have also witnessed the introduction of the close call system (known as CCS) and its promotion by Network Rail; the move from method statements of 70+ pages to minimal task briefs; and work activities along with better PPE throughout the industry has helped to bring around a culture change.

Newer organisations such as the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System, CIRAS as it is known, help to promote a reporting system for all who work on the railway. In turn, by promoting the reporting of concerns in confidence to CIRAS, the organisation can then put pressure on companies independently to help influence an outcome and improvements, thus improving safety across the rail industry.

But is all this enough? Is there someone out there with a fantastic system of railway safety that we are all missing?

For the last 10 years the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Railway Group has worked hard to try to get companies together to discuss railway safety and try to bring into the light the hidden nuggets of railway improvements. As committed railway and safety professionals we believe that by getting companies to be open about how they manage their safety – whether it be trackside, depot or on a project – then we can share information with other railway members and discuss and debate areas of good practice as well as areas that could be improved.

In order to have these discussions there has to be maturity. It is easy to criticise what someone does, but it takes a more professional attitude to suggest ways to stop things happening, as well as put things right. The IOSH Railway Group has, to date, held sessions on depot and station construction safety, working depot safety, as well as train crew and station security.

There have also been specialist sessions with the RSSB (Railway Safety and Standards Board) on guidance for contractors. The ORR (Office of Rail Regulation) launched its ‘Railway Management’ maturity model, RM3, and then worked with the IOSH Railway Group to promote this through meetings and events. Additionally we have held events covering occupational health, working with the HSE Laboratories. These have included diesel fumes, ballast dust, asbestos and fatigue. The major link throughout the events is employee health and safety and improvements to their wellbeing.

Areas of specific concern

In recent years this has been linked to the Railway Group annual award. This award is presented for occupational health and safety issues. These are themed for each year and are based on discussions with the RSSB, ORR and CIRAS as to where there is an area of concern that has been highlighted through recent events or where it is believed an area could be improved.

Previous years have seen the award go to Crossrail for its work in employee health management for all its operatives and to VolkerFitzpatrick for its fatigue management system, designed to stop tiredness affecting railway engineering and construction.

The workplace environment

This year’s award is open to any company that can demonstrate an improvement in the workplace environment that produces improvements in employee health and wellbeing, and will benefit long term occupational health.

It can be an improvement that has already taken place within the last two years where there is now evidence to show the benefits, or it can be an improvement that is happening now, with history and the reasons for its introduction.

This award choice was based on the current CIRAS data that shows that employee work environment is one of the top-reported areas of concern within the industry. It also falls in line with the ORR’s promotion of health and wellbeing within the railway industry.

The IOSH Railway Group are keen to keep up the push for improvement and following recent events at Hornsey Thameslink depot (under construction) and London Underground training school at Stratford we have further visits planned to the Crossrail tunnelling centre and a train maintenance facility, as well as the annual rail conference in November.

Risks arising from ALO and electrification

The two big issues that have been identified within the ORR over the coming years of CP5 are carrying out engineering works whilst railway lines are still open to normal trains (Adjacent Line Open working or ALO) and also the understanding of the risks when working near to electrification, electrification equipment and the boundary.

Currently the Railway Group are in talks with Network Rail about holding an event jointly, focusing on subjects such as ALO, the controls and ramifications, along with electrification, earth bonds and electrical hazard perception.

The Railway Group hold and have held events all over the UK, but all site events and visits require a company invitation and organisation for between 50-75 people. So if you are open to the IOSH Railway group holding an event at your place of work and having the opportunity to promote your services, then please get in touch.

The IOSH Railway Group

With nearly 1,500 members, the IOSH Railway Group covers all the issues relating to the safe design, construction, operation, maintenance and interworking of railways, tramways, metros and other forms of guided surface transport.

The group:

Provides CPD activities, site visits and networking opportunities;

Facilitates new thinking and research on safety issues;

Makes sure that a balanced view of the railway industry’s safety performance is represented, independent of commercial interests;

Encourages debate about, and makes contributions to, the development of new and emerging legislation and guidance in the sector;

Runs a series of networking events;

Stages an annual rail conference every November – a major sector event attracting senior industry figures, politicians and enforcers;

Delivers an annual award to raise the profile of occupational health issues; and

Regularly publishes articles that may be of interest worldwide on LinkedIn.

The Railway Group’s committee is made up of volunteers who have specific skills, expertise and knowledge of the sector. Committee members are appointed from among the Group’s membership and from external agencies (such as the ORR). The Committee meets periodically to put together and review a plan of activities. Each committee member acts as a contact point for members and as a link between IOSH head office and its industrial sector.

We are always keen to hear from IOSH members wishing to raise specific topics or suggest ideas for events.

(Image: Alvey & Towers)

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