Rail Industry Focus


What next for safety?

As rail businesses edge towards their target of zero injuries, improving safety performance can plateau. Amey’s sector director for rail, Lee Jones, explains how embracing tech, smart data and human science could help the infrastructure provider expand its safety frontiers.

Over the last 60 years, improved equipment, better training and strong leadership has transformed accident rates across industry. In the UK rail sector, working practices and culture have driven an overall reduction in harm on running lines, and the number of fatalities among infrastructure workers are few.

According to the RSSB’s latest Annual Safety Performance Report, driving is now the leading cause of workforce fatality over the last decade.

Here at Amey, we believe any injury is one too many. Our Target Zero campaign sets out our core objective of achieving zero harm to our people, the public and the environment by having the right culture and behaviours in place. Thanks to Target Zero, last year the Accident Incident Rate in our rail business reached its lowest level since 2001, and we picked up a UK Rail Industry Award for workplace safety.

But if the history of safety performance tells us anything, it’s that this onward downward trajectory will be difficult to maintain. The performance improvement which comes from every major breakthrough will eventually plateau as it becomes normal practice. We need new ideas to keep pushing forward the frontiers.

Steady but not spectacular improvement to safety may be business as usual for many, but this is not where I want the rail sector to be. Here at Amey, we are working towards major advances that deliver a step change in safety, which is transferable outside of work.

This year we have been really challenging issues at the heart of risk, such as late changes to planned work, rigorous site cleansing before work, driving and behaviour. One of these was a particular root cause of issues. Late requests to alter or increase the scope of planned work have knock-on implications for risk assessment and mitigation. They can lead to increased pressure on teams and late working.

Any customer-led organisation will tell you that pushing back on late requests from clients is hard. It causes administrative pain too. But insisting on having enough notice to plan means that our teams are not accepting the risks, and we are beginning to see the benefits.

Harnessing technology

These types of initiatives are the backbone of any good health and safety programme – but we are also looking to the future. Recent advances in technology and human science have opened up previously unimagined scope for addressing both the physical and mental environments people face at work towards creating a more holistic, people-centric safety framework.

Number one: tech. Remote technology, robotics, cybernetics, visualisation and simulation have enormous potential to be applied in the field of health and safety. Obvious applications include the use of drones and robotics to remove people from hazardous environments altogether. And we are increasingly probing the possibilities of biometrics and immersive experience training to reach out to people on a personal scale.

Projects like the AmeyVTOL precision, long-range, hybrid drone, making it safer, quicker and easier to survey and assess vital civil infrastructure, are a direct result of this approach.

Amey’s tier one membership of the pioneering Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry is helping us develop other technology-driven solutions. The MTC brings together engineers and technicians from industry and academia to help bridge the gap between university-based research and the development of innovative manufacturing solutions.

We are now in the early stages of developing the use of radio-frequency tethering to create virtual safe zones and the creation of virtual reality sites to allow remote site survey and hazard identification.

We are also investigating the potential for virtual reality training. Research has identified that people who have had a near miss often have much better safety behaviours. A near miss with a 125mph train, once experienced, is never forgotten. No amount of literature can recreate the emotional lesson that can be taught in the total safety of a virtual reality environment.

Tackling fatigue

Amey has also been trialling the use of wearable biometric technology to monitor body states and identify states of stress, such as high temperatures, drowsy driving and even slips, trip and falls with considerable success.

According to the road safety charity Brake, one in six crashes resulting in death or injury on major roads are fatigue-related. So, working with a Canadian company specialising in fatigue science, we used wearables to monitor the sleep of 60 of our people for a month. The results were sobering. Some were sleep-deprived to the extent that, at some points during the day, their reaction time and decision-making ability would have been affected to a level similar to that of a driver over the legal drink drive limit.

In some cases, poor sleeping habits were the problem; for one, a heavy cold which affected their rest was eventually pinpointed, but for two the sleep patterns they displayed were cause for greater concern. Hospital intervention diagnosed sleep apnoea, a breathing condition which can be ameliorated with medical help.

This fascinating study gave people personal data which genuinely helped them reduce their risk of harm in all aspects of their lives. It was not a union issue, the information was anonymised, but the response was so positive we have now put a limited annual programme in place which, as well as screening, includes therapy to share the results, sleep hygiene counselling and ongoing consultation. We are also looking at how we can improve rostering and include the advice in our employee wellbeing campaigns.

Developing a safety culture

Second, human science. Safety experts have long recognised the impact of behaviour on safety performance and the importance of a good safety culture.

Top-down drivers of safety culture – I’m thinking of clear management commitment and leadership, training and procedures – pay enormous dividends, but what if we could tap into the thoughts, experiences and knowledge of every individual member of staff to drive change from the bottom up?

We are now halfway through an award-winning collaborative partnership called SafetySmart, working with psychologists, researchers and human factors experts at Leeds Beckett University to support our Target Zero strategy as part of a long-term Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

The aim is to deliver a bespoke validated safety measurement tool, which identifies the behavioural predictors of accidents in our business and then supports more effective and focused interventions to prevent the frequency and severity of accidents and injuries.

An embedded research associate is working closely with our own employees to research, gather and analyse information about their views of safety across our rail and consulting business unit and, crucially, their personal experience, attitudes and responses to the real situations they face every day.

More than 1,600 workers in our business have been asked to take part in a safety questionnaire, and the remainder of the SafetySmart project will support Amey in its proactive psychological approach to understanding safety.

Our people are our business, so if there’s technology available we should be using it. Innovation and technology are the key to understanding the hidden pressures which tempt people to put themselves at risk in the first place, and give them the live data to help them make a better decision.

Sponsored Interview


E: [email protected]

W: www.amey.co.uk


Ampox   10/11/2017 at 12:57

All good stuff, but isn't there an elephant in the room called level crossings? Far too many avoidable accidents happen on them due to public negligence, and the only reliable solution would seem to be replacement by bridge or underpass. Expensive - yes, but with increasing train speeds, necessary.

Keith   10/11/2017 at 15:54

Target Zero may be good but it is still a negative reactive measure and can lead into under reporting, especially when you are trying to make figures look good. Proactive safety is much more positive and helps to influence behaviours, Positive action on close calls, Director safety conversations and Safety tours and PGI are much better measures, along with the use of technology for Fatigue and driving and even for health in general If you want to improve Health and Safety then engage the gears and not distract the driver !!

Mark Hare   16/11/2017 at 14:32

@Ampox - I fail to see why level crossings, which are perfectly safe if used correctly by all involved should be replaced at great expense by bridges or underpasses. The railway (Network Rail and ultimately taxpayers) should not have to pay huge sums to reduce risk caused by careless or reckless motorists or pedestrians. If a driver chooses to risk weaving round the barriers or crossing the line when the red lights are flashing then they deserve all they get, it seems to me to be natural selection in action. Maybe road users should familiarise themselves with the highway code, maybe that would be a more cost-effective solution to the problem. And let's not forget that incidents caused by road users (such as the accident at Great Heck) are not always confined to level crossings.

Add your comment

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

View all News

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio ... more >

'the sleepers' daily blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s network of independent repair facilities across the UK and further afield in its global network. ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >
Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

02/07/2019Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action. Contractors are clear... more >
Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

02/07/2019Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

The TCR Midlands conference is only days away and tickets are going fast for the sector event of the year at the Vox Conference Centre in Birming... more >