Technical skills and expertise form the bedrock when it comes to training people to work on the rail network. However, the importance of ensuring that staff are also competent in a range of other, non-technical disciplines cannot be over-emphasised. By Lawrence Dobie, Education and Training Director at Vital Services Group
These ‘softer’ skills play a key role in ensuring that the rail network runs safely and efficiently and encompass effective communication and the ability to cope under pressure as well as planning, decision making and multi-tasking.
Network Rail is committed to eliminating deaths and serious injuries by the end of CP6 (2024) and for this to happen, it has been recognised that there needs to be a culture where “competent staff are confident in taking sensible risk based decisions”. This will be achieved through a commitment to improving the skills in a number of areas including leadership, culture, assets, risk, rules, skills and equipment, communications and staff wellbeing.
The introduction of specific courses that focus on these areas means that now, as well as having to prove competency in their chosen technical field, each member of staff will also complete assessments in non-technical skills, for instance, their ability to lead and assess risks.
Changes are already underway to address these requirements and equip staff with the additional skills, which should improve safety and reduce fatalities across the industry.
A recent development has been the creation of a non-technical skills course for those involved in site safety. These types of development courses focussing on non-technical skills are already being undertaken by signallers and train drivers and, ultimately, will be completed by all staff in safety critical roles, allowing them to develop their cognitive and interpersonal skills and this in turn will go towards reducing accidents and fatalities,
Network Rail has decided to keep the delivery of courses in-house for the current two year assessment cycle and from this month trainers and assessors will have to show that they have logged 30 hours of CPD (continuing professional development) per annum on the NSARE skills backbone.
Currently in development is a new personal track safety package. Staff who pass the initial on-line theory test, based on approximately 3 – 4 hours of study, will go on to take the practical assessment, which will include extended tasks and a track visit to reinforce the reality of being trackside.
Students are encouraged to take time to put their learning into practice on the job, before completing the second part of the course. In fact, Network Rail has deemed attending a two day block unacceptable.
It has also become apparent that operatives have had to attend numerous induction sessions which essentially re-cover the same content time and time again. A common content package has been developed which will only need to be attended once, with a short appreciation of individual site risks required thereafter.
The course will cover generic health and safety issues with a scored assessment, along the lines of the CSCS scheme. This will eventually be an e-learning package which will be logged on the new sentinel smart cards as an entry level competence.
These moves will not only enhance training by dovetailing non-technical and technical skills, but should result in a safer rail network.