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Colin Wheeler writes… Rail Safety Summit 2012

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Written by Colin Wheeler

One hundred and sixty attended the Rail Safety Summit on April 19th at Loughborough University.

Ninety separate companies and organisations attended. Whilst the industry is vibrant, healthy and growing, work is uneven and Government imposed austerity initiatives are being felt.

As host I suggested a hiccough will be caused by work deferment to accommodate the London Olympic Games. This is affecting us now, and will do afterwards as the industry makes up for lost time.

Thameslink, Crossrail, electrification schemes for more main lines, station works and of course High Speed 2, etc. are all major opportunities in heavy rail. The extensions of the Nottingham tram system and Manchester Metrolink are underway, and recent political decisions mean that similar schemes elsewhere will no longer need central governmental approval.

Eight questions were asked of the nine speakers. A majority responded that reducing the number of rules and standards would improve safety culture. There was an equally strong rejection of financially rewarding individuals for safety performances, but an even split over separating near misses and close calls.

Speakers agreed that the Inspectorate being part of the Office of Rail Regulation is a good thing, and “Devolution” by Network Rail down to routes will be beneficial; but the industry in general needs to change its policies on contracting.

There was agreement that the industry neither values nor trusts the skills of its trained staff enough and although travelling large distances to work is far from ideal, it is inevitable given the track possession patterns of our rail systems.

Emergency planning

First speaker Willie Baker describes himself as an “Emergency Incident Consultant”. He worked for 33 years as a Senior British Transport Police Officer. He reminded the Conference of a recommendation from the 1989 report into the Clapham Junction Railway Accident, namely “carrying out regular exercises simulating emergency incidents”.

He suggested that planning, preparation and training are not happening as recommended. He has worked in China and the Middle East providing services to the new Dubai Metro and the Saudi Arabian Metro. He expressed his concerns that with over 70% of those in the industry having less than ten years’ experience, there is no independent accreditation of emergency planning skills.

Injury Prevention

He was followed by Seamus Scallon, Safety Director UK Rail, FirstGroup. He has thirty years’ senior operational and safety experience in the industry. He explained the origins of their “Injury Prevention” policy born out of the Chief Executive’s passionate belief that all injuries are preventable and safe behaviours are essential.

This strong lead evolved into the culture where no injury is acceptable and an understanding that every employee “shares the responsibility for preventing harm to colleagues and customers”.

The company have an “Injury Prevention Handbook” and use the power of conversation to change behaviours. The number of near miss reports is consistently rising, consequently there is a recorded 18% reduction in injuries and a 43% fall in both one and three day absence accidents.

An Olympic Approach

After coffee when delegates visited the trade stands in the main hall, Steve Diksa, Assurance Services Director Bridgeway Consulting asked, “Where are we on the Safety Awards Rostrum”? He compared our industry to Olympic Medal Winners, some worthy of bronze silver or even gold, but not all.

He expressed the view that COSS (Controller of Site Safety) briefings were still not good and the words “just sign the form or you won’t get paid” are still prevalent. He suggested that there are lots of communications initiatives around but a lack of industry co-ordination.

He referred to the “War and Peace” weight of most site safety documentation, despite initiatives used to reduce it. He recommended a focus on what is really needed; is it relevant and correct and is it generic/cut and paste? He commented that culture on track is still, “we must get the work done at all costs” resulting in the under reporting of accidents/incidents and a blame culture in middle management.

Network Rail Handbooks are good, but he recommended a reduction in the number of armbands worn and a review of the need for separate Controllers of Site Safety on site. As a principle contractor he wants both Transport for London and Network Rail to work closely together and harmonise their requirements.

He spoke with incredulity highlighting that track safety training has not been updated since it was introduced in 1991! He recommended situational and practical examples be used to test competence rather than set questions.

Annual spend £4.3 Billion

Catherine Behan joined London Underground in 1998, and is their Head of Health Safety and the Environment Capital Programmes. She chose the title “The Road to World Class” and reminded delegates that their programme spending is £4.3 billion each year for 30 years.

Work will include station upgrades, Thameslink and Crossrail, resulting in an unprecedented level of asset changes. “World Class Delivery with Zero Harm” is the aim. Her concerns are the pressures exerted on track closures, the need to keep London moving, unit cost efficiencies, reliability and managing inconsistences that already exist.

She explained Transport for London (TfL) acts as either Principle Contractor or Client under the CDM (Construction Design and Management Regulations) and some Project Managers need to be reminded when TfL is the client. TfL uses an Annual Health and Safety Improvement Plan and a Project Management Framework to control its programme works.

A “Just Culture” for Network Rail

Gareth Llewellyn Director Safety and Sustainable Development Network Rail spoke as a relative newcomer to the industry reminding everyone that Network Rail itself was born out of a background of poor safety performance ten years ago.

He said the industry has more regulation than any other, and told us that he has already spoken with 250 safety representatives about his draft “Vision for Safety”. This is to be rolled out in late May.

The underlying principles remain as published in RailStaff and are based on the whole supply chain endorsing the principle that “Everyone goes home safe at the end of every day”. He emphasised concern that 20 near misses occur each period on the five and a half thousand level crossings that are user operated.

A Safety Campaign begins in May targeting schools near crossings, and by the end of the year risk assessments will be published for all user crossings. He added that, excluding suicides there are 10 fatalities per period due to trespass.

He plans to abolish 100 standards and introduce a small number of Life Saving Rules, and is currently working with trades unions on a “Just Culture” for the future. Referring to the 80,000 Safe System of Work packs produced each week, he asked why we need them at all, adding that 11-13 years is the average reading age of Network Rail’s employees.

An American Pilot from Georgia

The post lunch speaker was Jeff (Odie) Espenship, a loud fast talking American from Georgia. His background is as an American Air Force pilot and later Instructor Pilot. He told of his enthusiasm for flying beginning with moving pictures of accidents, amusing, incredible and serious. He calls himself the President of Target Leadership.

Then he described the circumstances under which his taking a short cut to avoid approaching bad weather when flying with his brother led to another pilot taking the same short cut.

The outcome a double fatality crash in which his brother lost his life. Memorable slogans included, “the road to perfection begins with inward reflection, processes are only as good as the operators”, and perhaps most of all “tolerance, over confidence and poor approachability lead to disaster”.

Then a Seaman from Liverpool, Belfast

Steve Enright easily met the challenge of following Jeff. His full job title is Head of Safety and Operational Standards Southern, having spent twelve years in the Merchant Navy before working in safety in the ports of Liverpool and Belfast. Commenting on reading ages of staff he suggested that even those with a reading age of just seven were often excellent at filling in timesheets!

He extolled the virtues of using cartoons and photographs to get a safety message across and stressed the need for leaving room for local items in safety communications. Communications should aim to work like spiders webs he said. Speaking of the rail industry he urged the industry to work more closely as safety could be improved if everyone involved worked together.

RRVs suck in Orange clad staff

Dr Liesel von Metz is an Office of Rail Regulation Inspector leading on track worker and railway construction. Her special interest is Road Rail Vehicles (RRVs). She has been working with Network Rail on their RRV Safety Improvement Programme. She described RRVs as the Swiss Army knives of railway contractors.

Type 9B high-ride RRVs have evolved from construction machines and rely on rail wheel/tyre contact for their braking. Agreement had recently been reached for all such machines to be fitted with direct rail wheel braking. During the last three years there have been 12 reported incidents involving braking problems with 23 enforcement notices imposed.

She spoke of plans to separate the planning of crane lifts from the duties of Crane Controllers and Site Manager’s ignorance of machine hazards. Some exasperation showed through when she spoke of the ways in which rail mounted machines act as magnets, attracting site staff to go near them and of the planning culture for rail sites which all too often comes up with the solution of “chucking in another man”.

Depot Safety

Christian Fletcher, Director Zonegreen focusses on providing safer working in train maintenance depots. He is responsible for developing equipment to protect their workforce from train movements. He listed the hazards as train movements, and traction power supplies, both overhead and third rail.

He also highlighted the importance of protecting depot cleaning staff whose first language may not be English, and the risk of injury from the use of manually operated points. Simple devices are now available to operate points remotely and he is passionate about the need for manual derailers to be replaced by powered ones. They then become a safe system used by the appointed Delegated Person.

He surprised many by telling us that manual derailers weigh 25 kilogrammes each and depot train movements during the hours of darkness typically vary between 30 and 40 per night.

Tom O’Connor of Rail Media closed the 2012 Rail Safety Summit at just after 4pm as scheduled, by thanking all the speakers and those who had attended and inviting everyone to attend the 2013 event on the 14th March 2013.


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