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Plan it right, plan it once, plan it safe

Source: RTM Apr/May 15

RTM’s David Stevenson was given an exclusive preview of how Network Rail’s Planning and Delivering Safe Work programme has been evolving in the last year  ahead of its phased roll-out from May.

Since 2013, Network Rail (NR) has been developing its Planning and Delivering Safe Work (PDSW) programme, which it believes will radically improve the way work sites are managed and risks controlled across the industry. 

I travelled to NR’s recently opened, and very impressive, workforce development centre at York Engineers’ Triangle, which is also home to the company’s largest rail operating centre (ROC). 

The site has professional and practical training facilities for up to 250 delegates, including 80m of internal and 150m external tracks, welding and signalling training facilities. They are also in the process of putting in OLE for electrification training. 

Ian Wallace, a workforce development specialist in welding, who has more than 30 years of experience in the industry, gave me a guided tour of the site. He told me that in comparison to the old training facility, a stone’s throw away from the new site, it is “an impressive facility and the best place to come and train”. 

The York Engineers’ Triangle site dates from the mid-19th century and was a centre for rail activity to the 1960s. And – as with the historic city itself – the site is home to some archaeological treasures. Excavations uncovered the foundations of three engine roundhouses from the 1800s and one engine shed, which have been recorded and preserved beneath the new buildings. 


But fast-forwarding through to the present day, the rail industry is about to undergo a cultural and behavioural change relating to safety and risk with the phased roll-out of NR’s PDSW programme, starting on the East Midlands route from 15 May. 

RTM was told by Sue Coverdale, programme manager for roles and responsibilities for PDSW, that the initiative will be rolled out nationally by the end of the calendar year. 

The PDSW programme is introducing a number of ‘Safety Changes’ which it believes will touch everyone that works on the railway infrastructure with the implementation of new electronic permitting (ePermit) technology, which will replace safe system of work packs, and a new Control of Work Process, which will be used to plan, risk assess, deliver and hand back all work carried out on NR infrastructure. 

The third aspect, which is probably the one that has grabbed the most attention, will be the new competence of Safe Work Leader (SWL) – a person accountable for safe delivery of work within a worksite. The duties of the controller of site safety (COSS) will from now on be done by the SWL, who will also be the Team Leader in charge of the task elements of the work. 

There will, however, be three levels of SWLs. Put simply, SWL1 will be accountable for task and operational risk and undertake the rule book duties (previously known as COSS). SWL2 will be accountable for task and operational risks and undertake the rule book duties (previously known as Engineering Supervisor or ES) – applicable to worksites within a possession.  And SWL3 is a competence identified on site as the Safe Work Manager (SWM). It will be used on the most complex project worksites. In this scenario, the SWM is supported by a separate ES-level person. 


During the site visit I caught up with Coverdale, who came on board the project last May. 

“If we look back over the last 11 months from where we were to where we are now, the progress we’ve made is phenomenal,” she told me. “For instance, we have written the PDSW Handbook – The Code of Practice for Planning and Delivering Safe Work – we understand exactly what we are doing and we’ve trained well over 3,000 in new safety competencies.  

“We’ve still got quite a long way to go with that; another 16,000 to do. Overall, we have about 20,000 people across the industry we’ve got to train. Even when we look at that in isolation it is one of the biggest training programmes we’ve ever done.” 

The PDSW training courses are five days long, and in order to become an SWL – even if you’ve been a COSS – you will be expected to undertake the additional training and be assessed as ‘competent’. Prior to starting a course, all SWL1 and SWL2 candidates are encouraged to complete an online pre-qualifying assessment. However, if people have not been able to complete the assessment there is an opportunity during day one of the course.

On the day I visited York’s training facility, Chris Bouttell, an NR workforce development specialist team leader, was conducting a PDSW course consisting of 12 delegates from across the Yorkshire region.

During the course, delegates focused on the behavioural aspects of the programme – why NR is doing it and why it is important. There was also a lot of time, as I observed, spent on developing effective communication across sites to understand risks and hazards more effectively in order to plan more robustly. 

Approximately 40-50% of the training content is based on how to use the ePermit technology: Proscient. This technology is provided by Petrotechnics, which has been delivering operational risk management and control of work solutions to the oil and gas industry for 25 years. 


The challenge of ePermits 

Proscient is expected to standardise actions around essential maintenance and repairs to reduce track time and mitigate the risk of injury and fatalities to staff. The browser-based technology will be accessed through NR IT infrastructure, and the installation of this application on mobile devices and through the desktop will be controlled by NR so that the number of concurrent users can be managed. 

Bouttell (pictured above) told us that the training is progressing well, but there has been a little “test and adjust” with those who have been involved in delivery. He identified that computer skills has been a challenge for some delegates, especially in the older age groups. “Currently, if delegates turn up with their online pre-qualifying certificate they then, throughout the duration of the five days, have three further assessments: one is on the computer programme; one is a knowledge check on the whole process; and the third is around the brief itself. 

“If the pre-qualifier is not done, we still have a facility to remedy that during the week. Two of the assessments delegates take are in written format and are multiple choice, the third is a verbal presentation of the brief. They then go away with an ‘action plan’ for development with their line manager and the whole process in the future is auditable.” 

‘Feels different’ 

One of the delegates on the course in York,Rick Coates, an on-track plant specialist from Rotherham, and a COSS for 15 years, told us that it does feel different moving towards SWLs “as we are going to be asked to provide more information and feedback, and be more engaged with staff”. 

He added that he certainly feels that there is going to be more of an onus on SWLs to be more accountable and be able to put other accountabilities to their staff, while maintaining safe systems of work around everybody. 

“The new ePermit technology could be harder for some of the guys who have been in the railways for a long, long time,” said Coates. “It is new technology, stuff we haven’t worked with. A lot of the younger guys will pick it up quite easily. With it being a web-based app there is still going to be the paper link to it. I do think it will be this that causes a little bit of difficulty at the start; but it is a big step forward.” 

Coverdale added that the ePermit technology allows permits to be linked together so that more safety controls can be put in place by SWLs. Also, the system is using interim maps – collated through various sources – of the network. However, once the Offering Rail Better Information Services (ORBIS) scheme, which includes capturing detailed photographs in 3D and cross-sections so employees can pull up a map of the network, is finished, it will be integrated into the system.               

RTM was told that there is a reasonably good pass rate: about 90-95% for SWLs.  However, some individuals do go away where NR is recommending to their line managers that they need a little more development or mentoring in certain aspects. “That 10-point safety plan, launched more than two years ago, was launched to drive a step-change in how we manage safety and it was deliberately launched in order to make significant leaps so that we have zero fatalities and zero major injuries,” said Coverdale. 

“The interesting thing, though, is that we all recognise that those 10 initiatives, while being brilliant in themselves, are enablers for the wider change. We all look out for each other when we are out there on site, but we want it to become second nature and embedded further. By using technology and by talking more, we are starting to see a major behavioural change. It is already coming and we can see it in pockets, which is fantastic.” 

Bouttell, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years, added that a real positive from the training side – which has initially focused on NR staff but will be rolled out to the wider industry – is that even though the programme hasn’t gone live yet people are starting to deliver their briefings in the SWL manner. 

“This helps people become more engaged about the factual aspects, safe systems of working and how they conduct their work,” he said, adding: “It is a simplistic process and does not leave room for error. It is fantastic how the process covers every eventuality.” 

Finally, he told me that the system gives SWLs the ownership in the development of the permit. “I think it is a very powerful process which sends out a powerful message: Plan it right, plan it once, plan it safe.”

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