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Getting smart on safety

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The need for confidential reporting was one of the central recommendations that came out of the Cullen Inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove disaster which claimed 31 lives in 1999. It was mandated shortly after from an urge to do things better.

CIRAS, which is part of RSSB, began life as a pilot scheme at ScotRail in the mid-1990s. Following Ladbroke Grove, it was rolled out nationally.

“We always encourage and fully support the use of internal reporting systems, but we recognise that health and safety issues can sometimes be difficult to report,” said Chris Langer, communications and scheme intelligence manager at CIRAS, explaining the role of external confidential reporting tools.

“For example, there are very few people that can muster the courage to report that they have fallen asleep at the controls of their train, or at the wheel of their car. But, in an atmosphere of trust, they will divulge such episodes to CIRAS. Trust is difficult to establish. Our team of reporting analysts are trained to conduct interviews with rail staff skilfully, using their psychological expertise to build rapport and get to the heart of issues.”

Unique intelligence

Chris believes there is a lot the rail industry can learn from the intelligence CIRAS gathers alongside its core reporting function.

Some may be unaware that CIRAS also conducts confidential surveys. CIRAS recently reported the results of its safety culture survey. It showed a huge difference between the way managers and frontline staff perceived their culture. There were also huge differences between sectors within the railway industry.

The online survey, which included responses from well over a thousand railway staff, showed that 88 per cent of the managers believed health and safety concerns were taken seriously at work, as opposed to just 41 per cent of frontline staff. “You would be forgiven for thinking that managers and frontline staff inhabit different worlds,” said Chris.

There was one sector in particular that consistently outperformed the others in this area: Network Rail’s supply chain. CIRAS has shared the reasons for supply chain success in this area with its members at various events.

Chris added: “Our core business is reporting, so we see ourselves as a natural catalyst for change and innovation in this area. It is also the reason why transport organisations from the US, Japan, Spain, and even Korea have consulted with us to learn how they can benefit from our expertise and insight.”

Sharing insight

CIRAS does more than just produce intelligence. “Our members are keen on finding solutions to the issues they routinely face in the health and safety arena,” said Chris. “To this end, we regularly run workshops on improving reporting rates, fatigue management, mental health, and even mindfulness for safety critical staff.”

In addition, CIRAS has also launched a new publication, Membership Matters, targeted at the health and safety professionals within its member organisations. “There is a keen emphasis on how best practice can be shared. Many of our members are open enough to put forward their best ideas, even where they break new ground, and would potentially give others a competitive advantage. Share and share alike is very much the ethos here.”

Reaching out to the frontline

CIRAS describes frontline staff as its “eyes and ears”, with the majority of reports coming from this portion of the workforce. CIRAS has rebranded its newsletter ‘Frontline Focus’ to reflect this.

The feedback they can offer can lead business improvement, something which is often viewed separately from health and safety. Chris recounted the saying: “If you think health and safety are expensive, try having an accident.”

“Speaking up for health and safety by coming to CIRAS is often a last resort,” said Chris. “Whatever the story behind a confidential report, we aim to ensure all our members can learn from it.”

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