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We ask the rail safety experts… Part 2

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In preparation for this year’s Rail Safety Summit, we sat down with leading figures from the rail safety industry and asked them a series of pressing questions about safety practices within the rail industry.

Today’s question is:

Should line managers and supervisors be rewarded for safety performance or does this lead to under-reporting?

Answers:

Willie Baker, Emergency Incident Consultant:

I am not sure I can ever recall an occasion when a person being recognised for doing something that has improved safety on the railways has prompted others not to report things!

I can think of occasions when people have reported what they think was a safety issue that turned out not to be, and subsequently felt miffed when they were ignored.

In March this year the Chartered Management Institute published a report highlighting their research that nearly 50% of line managers in the UK were considered ineffective by their staff.

Maybe some managers simply need to be better and more effective communicators up and down the organisation when it comes to managing matters of safety or perceived matters of safety?

Seamus Scallon, Safety Director, UK Rail, FirstGroup:

There is always a possibility of performance rewards driving behaviour that could lead to under reporting, but I would consider the risk can be managed by agreeing reasonable targets, suitable audit, verification and quality control checks within safety reporting processes.

I would have a view that good safety performance should not be excluded from a reward structure, as leadership and accountability are important drivers to enhance safety.

Steve Diksa, Assurance Services Director, Bridgeway Consulting:

Less incidents and accidents should be just rewards for all that work in the rail industry. I believe that more time should be spent with Managers and Supervisors to help them fully understand, embrace and demonstrate the right safety behaviours.

Recent reports have also indicated that there is a risk of under reporting if safety performance is seen as a target for reward. Adopting a challenging culture (without recourse), listening and an open door policy will encourage staff to report accidents, near misses and close calls, as long as action is taken to follow them up, with action being the key word.

Catherine Behan, Head of HS&E Capital Programmes, Transport for London:

We certainly have evidence that suggests rewards based on number of accidents don’t deliver the right outcome.

If we are to reward safety performance we need to think long and hard about the measures we use to ensure that they drive the right behavior and outcomes.

We need to reward the extent to which line managers are putting the right things in place and behaving in the right way, so we should consider safety performance in the context of these inputs in the first instance, rather than the reactive outputs, such as injury rates.

Jeff ‘Odie’ Espenship, President, Target Leadership:

Research has clearly shown that the top motivator for employees is recognition. Being recognized is different than being rewarded. Employees should be recognised for quality, productive, and safe behavior.

‘Band Aid Brigades’ and under-reporting thrives where employee rewards are the norm rather than employee recognition.

When leading indicators and near misses are under-reported, an accident eventually happens. When it does, the phrase heard most often among employees is ‘I knew it’.

The problem with rewards is that they begin to become an expectation.

Animosity can build against an employee who cost the entire group their expected reward due to a reported injury. Conversely, employee recognition builds pride and morale. Safety becomes more a value and not a tangible reward for safety performance.

Steve Enright, Head of Safety and Operational Standards, Southern:

In my view, no, they should not be directly rewarded for safety performance. Good management and support of all employees would recognise good behaviours and activity that supports a positive safety culture and rewarding this as part of an overall achievement is a more effective approach in my view.

There is a risk of under reporting if it is seen as a target for reward.

Dr Liesel Von Metz, HM Inspector of Railways:

Although in principle safety performance always should form part of a balanced assessment of the performance of managers and supervisors, it’s important that this takes place in a culture where there is honesty and openness.

A culture where reporting of poor performance is suppressed, be this in safety or finance, does not benefit any organisation – as the lessons of Enron and Texaco City show. But the challenge we face in the rail industry is great.

There’s a lot of labour-only subcontractors being used, and I’ve talked to men on the ground who have a real fear of NRB (Not Required Back) if they report an injury; maybe that’s why the ratios of minor injuries to major injuries do not quite match academic theory.

Perhaps if the incentives in the contracts were less focused on delay minutes and took a wider view of delivering quality and safety right first time, a Zero Defects approach, we’d get a more realistic view – along with an increase in performance.

Christian Fletcher, Director, Zonegreen:

In my experience depot staff don’t wish to be financially rewarded for raising safety issues. The reward is them bringing a problem to their boss and the company doing something about it.

Employees feel far more valued if the company listens and acts on their ideas and suggestions.

Tomorrow’s ‘We ask the rail safety experts’ will see our experts answer this question:

Do we need separate categories for near misses and close calls?

Click here to view yesterday’s interview.

The Rail Safety Summit is taking place on April 19th 2012 in Loughborough.

For more information, please visit www.railsafetysummit.com

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