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Rail Safety Summit 2013: Leadership and safety culture

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Transport for London Over a hundred and twenty people were present when i opened this year’s Rail Safety Summit. Writes Colin Wheeler

I then invited Transport for London’s Jill Collis (Director Health Safety and Environment) and Dr. Ian Gaskin (General Manager Health Safety and Environment) to conduct their opening session entitled, “A conversation on safety leadership.”

They suggested that “rules and procedures are vital but not enough” before questioning the role of leaders in creating a safety culture, in what they described as “a conversation about leadership behaviours.”

Jill began by asking a number of questions including; what do good leaders do, their characteristics, actions and personal style, what do they do when things go wrong? They then provided answers using recorded but unedited interviews with managers from across the Transport for London organisation, as part of their initiative to improve safety culture. The speakers reminded us that their initiative covers London’s buses, DSC_0032 [online]Docklands Light Railway as well as the Underground.


Paul Russell from CIRAS (Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System) commented that it is 18 years since they were founded. They were set up as a result of Lord Cullen’s recommendations following his Inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove Accident. Lord Cullen said back then that he “hoped that in the longer term the culture of the industry would be such as to make confidential reporting unnecessary.” He went on to comment that it might take a long time in coming!

Paul emphasised that potential interference can get in the way of internal reporting. Mutual trust is needed between management and workforce, and employee ownership of safety is essential.

He said that heavy use of confidential reporting indicates a deficient safety culture and to stress the importance of workers being given credit for reporting rather than being criticised or even threatened for so doing. He suggested that “fixing the problem rather than fixing the people” must be the aim.


Richard Sharp chairs the Infrastructure Safety Liaison Group (ISLG). Founded in 1996 as a safety leadership forum it reviewed its remit in 2010.

Apart from rail company members, stakeholders include London Underground, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and trades unions with the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) who act as secretariat and provide facilitation for the 30 members.

Safety Strategy- “seizing the agenda”

Allan Spence was seconded from the ORR last year and has been developing Network Rail’s long term safety strategy. The objective is to “eliminate fatalities and serious injuries, reduce minor injuries and also eliminate repeat cause incidents.”

He criticised the fact that the industry in 2013 still relies on the use of lookouts equipped with horns, whistles and flags to warn of approaching trains. He emphasised the importance of just treatment, risk awareness, feeling able to report incidents, being included in decision making and feeling free to innovate. He focussed the Conference by referring to the track-workers hit by an RRV the previous week.

Safety and wellbeing 2012-2024

Emma Head is Network Rail’s Head of Workforce Safety. This strategy aims to, “Improve competence arrangements, reduce bureaucratic barriers and focus on creating a more broadly skilled workforce with the competence and skills to work safely.”

My first reaction was that the timescale is too long but she went on to say that the initial aim is for “a 50% reduction in repeat accidents in the next 12-months.” This is all part of their Workforce Safety 10 Point Plan, each point sponsored by an Executive Board Member.

The commitment of Board Directors is to spend 25% of their time on safety. Together with the trades unions there is to be training for the top 400 leaders on roles and responsibilities, and a move away from prescription to doing things locally.

The central team aim to involve 320 contractors and the current free-for-all multi-sponsorship arrangements are to be replaced by “contracts of sponsorship” involving a single primary sponsor for each individual.

Maybe we will at last progress beyond payment via umbrella companies and multi-sponsored individuals with little knowledge of next week’s work, to reasonably paid individuals who gain a sense of involvement belonging to an organisation and contributing to its safety record?

Life Saving Rules

Iain Boardman landed the last session before lunch and spoke of the changing safety culture within Network Rail resulting from the introduction of their Life Saving Rules.

These rules include contact with trains, taking responsibility and working with electricity, at height, with moving equipment and driving. The concerns over road accident injuries as people travel to and from work is clearly on Network Rail’s radar and perhaps with good reason.


After the standard of lunch which regular Summit attendees at Loughborough have come to expect, Simon French, Deputy Chief Inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) had the unenviable task of beginning the afternoon session.

The RAIB went live in 2005 having been proposed by Lord Cullen in his Ladbroke Grove Public Inquiry Report of 1999. Having written so often about their reports in RailStaff I had some concerns but he assured me that they read RailStaff and often discussed the views expressed. In response I commented that the feedback I receive to my “rants” continues to motivate me to write again each month!

Investigate the accident before it occursDSC_0007 [online]

He answered three questions; why investigate, what does a good investigation look like, and what recurrent factors have been identified? In the last 7 years RAIB has deployed investigators on more than 350 occasions to incidents on mainlines, metros, trams and heritage railways. His presentation included many dramatic pictures.

He suggested that “accident investigations shine a searchlight into the corners of the railway industry and provide valuable intelligence to those with responsibility for safety.” That means all of us then.

Good investigations should be “independent, accurate, proportional, timely, consistent and use traceable evidence.” His closing thought is one of the quotations of the day; “why not investigate an accident before it occurs – asking the question ‘what if’ – before the event?”

Driving fatigue and classifying incidents

Colin Dennis, RSSB began by highlighting growing concerns about road driving risks. He said that between 25% and 40% of fatal and serious road accidents happen during work related journeys, and fatigue is the major risk.

He then told delegates about the “Incident Factor Classification System” which they are introducing. Classification factors will include types of human errors, and underlying factors such as procedures, competence and safety management.


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