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CIRAS: Fit for today, ready for tomorrow

This August will see Paul Russell mark his first full year as the Head of CIRAS, the UK rail industry’s confidential reporting and analysis system.

The year has been an interesting one with many challenges and one that has been used to shape the future of CIRAS. Here he explains what has been done to date and what he believes lies ahead.

On arrival at CIRAS back in August last year, Paul had just completed a four year journey as an Assurance Director in the Transport division of Serco. He recalls, “This allowed me to work across many diverse cultures. Introducing a competence management system in the iconic Dubai Metro was a year long project and saw me staying in the UAE on and off over this period.”

Russell says this experience was new to him, with the company having to recruit over 3000 personnel from over 25 different countries. “It was an incredible challenge. We had to introduce a competence management system and apply it to over twenty different nationalities and cultures. Not easy”

However, Russell found that in some cultures, the management of staff can be different. “In the UK we encourage staff to refuse to work via a Policy if they have been asked by someone to carry out a task that may be in breach of the rules or is inherently unsafe.

‘Some nationalities have a different approach to worker- manager relationship and some cultures will see their employees follow the instruction given to them regardless of whether they know it’s wrong. I found that strange but once you know the cultural differences, you then have to take that into account.”

Paul reflects, “Serco were applying best practice in the UAE but had to engineer it in a way to take into account all the diverse cultures”. He had other projects later in Australia and then in Delhi, India, which he said was another massive learning experience.

Today Paul is much closer to home and travel these days expands the width and breadth of the United Kingdom. “One of my first tasks was to engage with the CIRAS scheme subscribers at all levels, from front end employees to senior management.”

He continues, “I’ve not finished doing the rounds yet and still have many stakeholders to meet with and engage. It’s important to us that we ensure all levels of a company understand CIRAS and how the system operates.”

We have been busy re- emphasising what CIRAS is and what it isn’t. We aren’t a whistleblower and I would like to make that absolutely clear, nor are we an alternative reporting system.

But what we are is a safety reporting system that complements a company’s existing safety reporting systems. Staff should report safety concerns internally, always. However I understand that in the complex world that we work in, sometimes reporting internally can prove difficult, or indeed may have been done but with no positive outcome.

Sometimes the margin between an accident occurring or not, is too close for comfort. I believe what CIRAS offers is valuable and beneficial to organisations in its ability to provide them with a safety net, a confidential route that staff can take, that in the majority of cases, results in a positive safety outcome.

The alternative is that something unsafe remains in the system which could result in an incident occurring. The cost of this can be far reaching and may not only bring about financial loss or reputational damage but ultimately it can result in injury or even a fatality.

We offer a company that safety net. Staff can ring our confidential reporting line and we will, on their behalf, liaise with the organisation to help bring a resolution.

Russell has slowly introduced changes to how CIRAS operates and initiated an independent review of the scheme back in January. This resulted in a number of improvements being identified and some that he stresses are critical to how CIRAS is perceived.

“Our Governance arrangements are such that we have to be transparent in everything we do. We are a not for profit scheme and how we operate and what it costs is as important to our stakeholders as it is to us.”

Russell is looking at some radical changes that would transform the way CIRAS is funded and operates. “I have a good team around me and some seemingly impossible tasks now feel achievable, but we have a lot of work to do and delivering is always what really matters.”

The biggest change to CIRAS though, is in the form of its new Strategy which was recently approved by the CIRAS Committee. “This is why I came here” Russell states. “The new Strategy allows CIRAS to look at other transport providers other than just heavy rail and offer the same services whilst maximising the opportunity to learn.

This sits well with many of the current rail providers, as several of them are already part of much larger owning groups with other transport interests. However we must always protect the scheme’s roots, rail, and effective Governance ensures that.”

The Strategy is due for launch in April 2014 but Russell acknowledges that there is much still to do before CIRAS is ready for lift off. “We are undertaking two targeted awareness campaigns across rail in the latter part of 2013. ScotRail, where CIRAS began, is helping us re-engage and get the right messages out to users of the scheme as well as the managers.

‘We are also in early planning stages with Greater Anglia and hope to roll out the same format as we do in Scotland. What has now been termed “The Three Cities Campaign” will take place in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth.

Russell, originally from Glasgow himself, says, “North of the border is going to be busy for us and we have also just recently signed up new light rail tram operator Edinburgh Trams.”

CIRAS is certainly re-engaging and under Russell’s leadership has made a conscious decision to shift the perceptions of CIRAS from a “whistleblowing” scheme, to one that supports learning from culture issues, accidents and incidents by providing an additional safety net mechanism and capturing events that may not otherwise have been reported.

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