RSSB: Measuring health and safety

Dr Michelle O’Sullivan, Principal Strategy Implementation Manager – Health and Wellbeing, RSSB.

Once upon a time, wrong side failures on our railway were a hidden pocket of risk. The same can be said of occupational road driving risk and accidents in yards, depots and sidings. The way we shone light on those areas, bringing them to the forefront of our safety thinking, was by developing key performance indicators (KPIs). Now this is happening for health and wellbeing too.

As our industry has matured in its thinking, interest in health and wellbeing data systems has grown. Many companies, quite naturally, started developing or improving their own. However, this can create problems of fragmentation – there might be a bit of useful data in this company, a bit in that one, all using different languages, algorithms and analysis tools. British Rail learned the folly of fragmentation in the 80s, when there were small collections of wrong side failure data here and there, but no clear picture of the whole situation. The result, arguably, was the Clapham accident of 1988, in which 35 people were killed when a green signal should have been showing red.

Now all that is set to change, with a cross-industry health data system rapidly taking shape. For the first time, companies will be able to access a shared system with a dashboard. This will help to:

  • Identify health risks in the industry
  • Assess which health risks are a priority
  • Make the business case for health interventions
  • Track if interventions have worked
  • Benchmark against other companies with similar workforce profiles

Once this dataset is fully flowing, RSSB will be able to do one of the things it does best – plot nationwide trends to raise awareness of rising risk and encourage the sharing of knowledge, ideas and best practice (all in line with Leading Health and Safety on Britain’s Railway). 

Given the events of the last year, now perhaps more than ever monitoring these wider-reaching trends is vital. Indeed, the data capabilities possible with the new system will allow rapid risk assessments to be undertaken, which could help us respond to a health crisis like Covid-19 in the future. Imagine if you could find, with the click of a button, how many members of staff had underlying health conditions, how many fell absent, and how many might do? Not only can it allow us to protect staff, it can help us keep the railway running. Using a common language and having a clear direction of improvement can also facilitate audit processes – including ORR health inspections.

As well as a health and safety case for this work, there is also a sound business one. The costs of impaired health is estimated to be £889 million to the rail industry every year. Having an accurate cross-industry dashboard can help focus investment where it is most needed to beat this cost down – and it’s estimated the sector will make annual savings of £10 million on costs relating to impaired workforce health.

T1239 is the first of three phases on our road to this ideal. It features health data KPIs, platform user requirements and likely costs. Phase 2 will see the development and testing of the prototype with the pilot user community. Phase 3 will see the roll out and adoption of the system by rail sector organisations from 2022.

The DfT and ORR both support this workstream. They see it as a key driver in building a healthier, more effective workforce – which it is. To put it simply, though, at the end of the day, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. The Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, has positioned this as a long-term cost-saving initiative for industry, highlighting that it ‘provides a basis for improving the quality of reporting and the availability of data whilst potentially reducing cost burdens. It will assist the industry in making effective decisions to protect workers and help the UK railways to continue to be one of the safest in the world’.

Companies can start reporting against the KPIs for free, right now. Companies wishing to take part in Phase 2 will need to budget approximately £5k – £15k for development costs, depending on the systems in operation and the selected reporting mechanism. Sixteen companies have already signed up. Want to be one of them? Contact [email protected] for more details.

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