We read with interest the article by Colin Wheeler in this month’s Rail Staff magazine. He wrote passionately of the safety problems and sometimes fatal incidents resulting from what he sees as the rail industry’s “Top down, command and control management”, the proliferation of ‘safety bean counters and databases’ and the absence of HRMI spot inspections.
Wheeler draws parallels with NHS hospital problems at Stafford and now Colchester and calls for a benevolent autocratic management who are able to listen and who have personal responsibility and accountability. He maintains that if staff know you support what they do, and are committed to safety, team morale will rise and they will do a good job.
Wheeler is absolutely right to be concerned about track worker safety and how lax personal safety and ineffective management practices contribute to this. Just recently the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report into the death of Scott Jobson, Controller of Site Safety (COSS), at Saxilby in December 2012, reminded us that since 2005 it has investigated 18 accidents involving track workers, five were fatal; a further eight resulted in serious injuries.
In another report covering an accident to a track worker which left him seriously injured, the RAIB reported on the provision of senior managers with “inaccurate safety monitoring data” meaning they were unaware of the regular practice of planning and using the least protective system of work when undertaking off-track inspections. The investigation found written evidence that off track inspectors were taking the view that since they were familiar with the area they could decide to reject unsuitable Safe Systems of Work and use their own judgement on how best to work safely. The result was “a significant difference between the usage of Red Zone working by Off Track Supervisors as recorded on the computer system ELIPSE and reality”. The extent of the misleading computer record is staggering. According to ELLIPSE 71% of the work was done using Green Zones but in reality 85% was carried out in Red Zones using lookouts. Clearly the collection and inputting of results onto a database is of limited use; and useless if it is inaccurate!
Arcadia’s Personal Safety Workshops focus heavily on addressing the dangers and risks presented in the rail workplace raised by familiarity with task – or complacency – , volunteering to take risks, and the underestimation of task complexity. Our range of leadership and management programmes cover a broad area, and specifically relevant to the safety issues raised by Wheeler are the modules that look at communication sills (especially listening), delegation, control and conscientiousness.
Let’s work together so that you and all of your employees – whether they be track workers or others in safety critical roles – can excel in personal safety and work towards eradicating unnecessary safety incidents.
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