Rail Industry Focus


Planning & Delivering Safe Work

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2014

Adam Hewitt reports on Network Rail’s ongoing changes to site safety and how it is keeping the workforce informed.

Network Rail is providing 30,000 days’ worth of delegate training this autumn to ensure all its staff and contractors understand the major changes coming soon to the Controller of Site Safety (COSS) role.

The changes will affect everyone who works on the railway infrastructure.

The core of the site safety changes include the introduction of a new role – the Safe Work Leader (SWL) – from January 2015; a single national control of work process; new electronic permitting (ePermit) technology; and new electronic maps showing the worksite and railway infrastructure.

The principles behind the changes were explained in RTM in autumn 2013, with input from Steve Hooker, implementation programme manager for Planning and Delivering Safe Work (P&DSW). The changes have been developing ever since.

Not everyone yet feels comfortable with the changes – some of those concerned have written into recent editions of RTM, and CIRAS, the industry’s confidential reporting service, noted in its most recent newsletter the worries of staff who have yet to be briefed.

But Network Rail is now undergoing an extensive consultation and training programme to assuage all these concerns and ensure everyone understands the changes. 

The Safe Work Leader (SWL)

The SWL will manage safe delivery of work on a worksite, and will be an employee of Network Rail or its principal contractor on that site – not from a tier 2 or 3 company.

As Network Rail IP’s then-boss Simon Kirby told RTM last year: “This has come from incidents where we’ve looked at the dynamic on site, where you’ve got someone from potentially the second or third tier running safety. Are they really going to feel accountable to stop the job when the person they’re trying to stop will decide whether they’ve got a job again next week?”

The safety arrangements on site will be appropriate for the hazards of the tasks, the work location and the environment. Principal contractors will retain responsibility for safety and work, whose risk management systems will face assurance from Network Rail.

It explains in a briefing: “In the future, the duties of the COSS will be carried out by the SWL who will also be the Team Leader in charge of the task elements of the work. As a result of these changes, we will need a smaller number of people to hold the SWL competence than currently hold COSS competence. This does not mean we need fewer people to do the work, just fewer to hold the competence.”

SWLs will need extra training and assessment, will be involved in the planning process, and will have a key role in deciding whether any late changes to the plan can be accepted.

There will be three levels of SWL: Level 1 for simple activities; Level 2 for sites involving trains or multiple work groups; and Level 3 for highly complex sites with many interfaces.


The new ePermitting system guides users through planning and risk assessment processes to produce permits that describe the plan through simple, relevant paperwork for use on site. Network Rail says: “This will replace the systems currently used to produce safe system of work packs. For the first time, ePermitting will embed a single process for controlling work. This will make it simpler to plan and deliver tasks safely, and track schematics will allow us to visualise all activity on our infrastructure in one place.”

It will be a ‘single hub’ for ensuring people are set tasks safely. Existing permits – such as those for digging, entering confined spaces, or for electrical isolations – will not be part of the new ‘Proscient’ permit system, but they will be ‘control points’ prior to the issue of the SWL permit, Network Rail says.

The new system includes a visual electronic map showing the worksite and infrastructure. These maps contain more detail, such as linespeeds, signal numbers, and the location of red zone prohibited areas, to improve safety briefings.

The full details of the changes are in the draft Rule Book, being published this month (September 2014), for implementation from December 2014.

More than 200 contractors have already been briefed via WebEx, the team further explained the changes at their stand at Rail Live 2014, and Network Rail also had 300 delegates from the supply chain at a recent one-day event at the NEC in Birmingham explaining the changes.

Matt Voigt, project leader at Network Rail, said: “P&DSW is the highest profile change project within Network Rail and will affect over 100,000 personnel. It was therefore vital that the programme team were able to communicate these changes effectively to our vast supply chain.”

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