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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Rail Safety Summit

Good ideas, now to make them reality

Loughborough University was the venue for the Rail Safety Summit I chaired on May 18th.

It was attended by no fewer than 110 delegates. Train operating companies, big and smaller contractors, suppliers of services to the rail industry, rail agency labour suppliers, consultants, trainers, safety professionals and writers from the Rail Media Group all took part. There were even attendees from other industries; presumably hoping to learn from our mistakes!

Directors working Bank Holidays

Steve Diksa who is now the Assurance Services Director for Bridgeway Consulting was the first speaker. Many will remember him from his time working for Network Rail to establish and refine their competency control system. A few may even know that he started as a trackman and progressed to being a track supervisor before donning a white collar.

He told delegates that Bridgeway Consulting’s Directors’ commitment, led by their Managing Director, is to work alongside their track staff using their Sentinel registered competencies so as to keep in touch. He enthused about working during the coming Bank Holiday too, and explained that all their trainers are “operationally active”!

He said that their company policy is to use an assessment selection system to recruit only people with the right attitudes, values and behaviours. Railway skills he said can be trained, but not behaviours.

Their supervisors are encouraged to visit work sites frequently and to actively promote safety awareness. There is no real alternative to Directors and Managers discussing safety face to face with work teams he said.

Nonetheless, understanding why good staff sometimes choose to work unsafely is a challenge. Others may even adopt a less than safe way of working, believing that the benefits of so doing outweigh the risks.

He went on to assert that 90% of accidents are caused by unsafe acts alone with unsafe conditions and technical failures playing little or no part in them. These less visual causes are more difficult to understand being the result of mistaken attitudes, feelings, group pressures, interactions between people and consequent behaviours. Or to put it another way, our safety cultures.

Use diagrams and simplify possessions

David Shirres is a rail engineer who has been in the rail industry for almost as long as me! He said that there can be no substitute for Director level commitment. Amongst a bevy of statistics (well he is an IOSH member) he told us that the chances of a track worker being killed by a train are 1 in 15,850 and that of the 52 fatalities suffered on Network Rail’s infrastructure between 1990 and 2010, 32% occurred whilst a safe system of work was being set up, 28% involved the use of “mobile red zones” and 20% of those killed since 1994 have been lookout-men.

He recommended the use of simple but comprehensive diagrams for every job to assist with local knowledge. He was critical of the complexity of the arrangements prescribed between Persons in Charge of Possession, Engineering Supervisors, Controllers of Site Safety, Machine Controllers and Nominated Persons.

He suggested that new task based guide books to taking possession in a simplified way was now needed since the current arrangements have evolved over time with more and more rules being “bolted on in an ad hoc manner”.

Sustainability and culture

Next to take the stand was Balfour Beatty Rail’s Safety, Health and Environmental Director Steve Holmes whose chosen title was “Sustainability for a Modern Railway Contractor”. He spoke of his commitment to “challenging the myths about sustainability, undertaking business responsibilities, defining boundaries and collective responsibilities.”

The starting point he said had to be with the leaders engaging with their people in innovations, health and wellbeing and embedding these in the company culture.

London Underground Systemising Everything

The last speaker of the morning session was Dr. Ian Gaskin, General Manager Safety Quality and the Environment for London Underground (LU). His theme was the “Systemising of Safety management and Everything Else”.

To put this in context he told us that over a billion customer journeys are now made on LU every year and the forecast is for London’s population to increase by 1.25 million by 2031 with 750,00 more jobs being created in the capital. Consequently LU now has underway its largest investment programme ever.

He said his focus had been on, “a systematic and World Class approach to safety without the pointless ceremony attached to many management systems.” He showed charts of the times between major incidents over the last decade and between potential near miss incidents.

He produced a copy for the new “95% compressed LU Rule Book” and told us that they are now applying the same systematic safety approach to everything else that they do. The benefits he said included increasing certainty in project delivery, cost savings, clearer accountabilities, and the fact that having one way of doing something results in reducing unnecessary overtime working and cost.

So impressed was Steve Diksa that he offered to take possession of this Rule Book to relieve Ian of the burden of carrying it home with him! His offer was accepted!

Lunch was taken buffet style with a mixture of both hot and cold dishes available in the large adjacent hall where a number of exhibitors had stands and were pleased to answer delegates questions more fully than they had been able to do during the earlier coffee break etc.

Not rules and procedures but better leadership

The first Paul Taylor to speak during the afternoon session was the Managing Director of Alkoomi Cultural Change Consultants. Having trained as a marine and civil engineer he spent 25-years working all over the world as a project manager in the oil and gas industry.

His presentation was titled “Why procedures, rules and systems are no longer enough”. He emphasised the importance of leadership alongside management which can be developed but not trained. Rules, procedures and systems he said will not on their own change an industry culture. Indeed they will work to sustain the existing one!

He spoke of the improvements in safety over the last 200 years but emphasised that today 90% of all accidents are due to “the human factor”. All too often he said the work force say that they are not responsible for any accidents, the supervisors claim that their task is production (and “accidents don’t happen on my watch”) and management are convinced that they must “take care of the business”.

Safety and Value for Money

A different slant came from Anson Jack, Director Policy Research and Risk at the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). His title was “Where does safety feature when seeking to increase value for money on the railway”; very topical with the publication of Sir Roy McNulty’s report on the railway.

He went back to the beginning of our railways and suggested that the 20th Century was one of consolidation following the mad rush to build our railways in the 19th Century. We are now in the 21st beginning with a vertically separated industry facing further changes, with China leading the way in a World of expanding High Speed Railways.

Amongst the largest European Railways (measured by track kilometre) Britain lies in 3rd place for safety with a ten year average of less than one fatality per year. However, he stressed that this does not necessarily mean that all is well since the risk profile identified by the RSSB indicates we may expect a ten fatality accident every 15.3 years and a 25 fatality accident every 50.2 years.

He concluded his presentation in telling style quoting from the Potters Bar accident Inquest that, “investigations and recommendations often repeat what was already known”.

Leadership and Trust with 100,000 staff

The second Paul Taylor was the last speaker of the day, but due to his new and pivotal role within Network Rail, we were all very attentive. His job title is Director Safety, Leadership and Culture Change and his task is daunting.

As he explained, Network Rail employs 35,000 staff and uses 65,000 contract staff to look after its 20,000 miles of track. He explained his focus and commitment by showing photographs of four fatality sites- Ardrossan 16/11/09, Leeds 2/12/09, Cheshunt 30/03/10 and Ashby 22/09/10.

He rightly said that Network Rail have developed safety management systems, changed rules and procedures, improved PPE and equipment. What is left he said is the “How”, and principally this needs to be addressed by increasing engagement with the track workers.

He suggested that further work was now needed to re-examine how prescriptive rules need to be, how many are produced, how well we communicate and whether or not sufficient consideration is given to peoples’ capability and the workload they are expected to deliver.

He concluded in similar fashion to his namesake commenting that we must bring trusting individuals into our thinking and ensure that training is behavioural based and includes leadership skills.

In his final sentence he again stressed the importance of good leadership. I am prejudiced since I chaired the day. The interest of the delegates ensured that I had very few chances to ask questions of my own, but I left Loughborough feeling that as an industry we are moving in the right direction. The Summit took place on May 18th.

Back to earth with a bump!!

A few days later I was brought back down to earth with a bump. One of Network Rail’s regular messages to their sponsoring organisations distributed by their National Competency Control Agency was issued dated 20th May and titled “Rule Book Module”.

Incredibly after what was said at Loughborough it advised that “Network Rail having considered the application of a couple of Rule Book changes for introduction in June 2011 have decided not to immediately adopt the issuing of possession authority numbers and to limit the taking of possessions round trains to track circuit block areas only!”

I feel sure that the RSSB issued the revisions in good faith. What sort of leadership example does this set for the industry? Surely such actions merely confirm the feelings held by many that you can’t trust them up there to get it right?

Finally as I wrote about 90% of accidents being caused by human factors (i.e. people) rather than things (e.g. rules, equipment and procedures) I took a telephone call. It told me that with effect from 31st May Network Rail’s maintenance sites, but not their Investment projects ones, were mandating the wearing of safety spectacles by all track staff!

How well was that communicated, and as my caller said “any idea where I can get 700 pairs of safety spectacles by tomorrow morning”??

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