Rail Industry Focus


Reducing railway suicide risk

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2014

Ola Rzepczynska, programme manager at the Samaritans, discusses how the charity hopes to build on a successful partnership in reducing rail suicide rates by providing staff with the right tools for intervention.

In recent years, the rail industry has been making concerted efforts to reduce the rates and risk of suicide on the railway, by providing staff with the skills and support to deal with these traumatic incidents and to help them intervene to stop them.

Financially, suicides on the railway cost the industry £43m annually, which is mainly made up of compensation payments and damage to rolling stock, according to Network Rail. However, this figure does not take into consideration the cost owing to lost days at work by those affected by an incident. 

One particular initiative – spearheaded by Network Rail and the charity Samaritans – has trained about 7,000 rail staff from train operating companies (TOCs) as well as British Transport Police (BTP) officers and Network Rail frontline staff to handle suicide attempts and events more effectively since 2010. As well as training staff, the first period of the Network Rail partnership project has seen significant numbers of physical improvements aimed at reducing suicide. These include mid-platform fencing (installed at 50 stations so far), platform hatching, trespass guards, platform-end barriers and technology such as smart cameras, designed to help identify people in difficulty.

Staff training

Nearly five years on, and the partners have decided to extend the programme. Ola Rzepczynska, who manages the programme at the Samaritans, told RTM: “So far we’ve trained about 7,000 staff and we have had about 200 intervention reports coming through to us, and many more to the BTP – who we also train. This is one of our key successes, but we realise there is still a lot more we need to do. Our work over the next few years will, of course, continue to focus on reducing the numbers of suicides on the rail network.”

So far, more than 600 courses have been delivered by Samaritans, and the charity wants to deliver more. Rzepczynska said: “The training courses will remain the same. But, so far we’ve trained about 6,000 members of staff on the Managing Suicidal Contacts course, which is predominantly aimed at frontline staff and BTP officers, to give them the skills to identify and approach an individual who is struggling to cope and potentially feeling suicidal.

“The other course, which we are really hoping to increase our numbers on, is the Trauma Support Training course – which we are currently running [approximately 1,000 train drivers and driver managers have undergone this training]. This course is for those assisting members of staff in recovery following traumatic incidents. We are seeing lots of positive feedback from both of these courses from the railway industry and BTP.”

One person who went on a course recently had to deal with a suicidal individual only a few days after the training. When reporting back, he said he’d applied the skills acquired on the course to make a lifesaving intervention. His feedback was that everybody at Network Rail and across industry should go on the course, Rzepczynska said.

Other work

Samaritans has been publishing guidance booklets for train drivers, operational staff and managers to identify signs of trauma within themselves, their staff and colleagues, and signposting them to support. “We’ve also published a station support handbook for frontline staff, giving them some simple pointers, tips and techniques when intervening with an individual, and supporting them following an incident,” she said. “Our Samaritans branches are also heavily involved following an incident and attending stations to support members of staff and members of the public who have been affected by incidents that have happened at the station.”

The numbers of deaths by suicide on the railways have fluctuated since the partnership began in 2010. In 2011 they dropped from 232 to 224, but in 2012 they rose to 268. The 2013 figure was 278. As a proportion of all suicides, railway-related ones have remained stable since 2003 at about 1.5%. Rzepczynska noted: “We need to bear in mind that over the last 10 years we have seen an overall population increase and there has been a huge increase in the amount of trains running on the network. We can’t necessarily link the two, but it does mean the risk has potentially increased – so there are more opportunities for an individual to take their own life on the line.”

Samaritans also sits with many of the TOCs, the RSSB, ORR, BTP and Network Rail on a multi-agency suicide prevention steering group.

Rzepczynska told RTM that with about 200,000 people working in a railway-related role, “we know our training courses will not reach everybody within the next five years”. It is increasing the number of courses it offers, but it is also releasing alternative basic awareness tools, including, from October, a video-based learning module on suicide prevention. 

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