Successful projects to improve working conditions for rail staff across the world have been recognised by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Railway Group.
Imagine you’re operating a 2,500 km rail network which connects two major African capital cities, home to more than 4.6 million people. Add to that an ambitious plan to transform the line into the continent’s leading transport and logistics provider by 2020.
That is the task facing Rift Valley Railways (Kenya) Ltd (RVR), operators of the line between Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, and Kampala in Uganda. As well as investing in the network to improve safety on the track, RVR is also striving to make its production workshops safer and healthier places to work.
It recently concluded a project to change employees’ behaviour after finding a high number of injuries in its workshops were as a result of slips, trips and falling objects caused by poor housekeeping methods.
A ‘5S’ method was introduced to enhance employee safety and cleanliness around five key themes – sorting, setting in order, shining, standardising and sustaining.
Management also trained 29 workshop staff as workplace safety representatives to act as a go-between for employees to raise wellbeing issues and oversee the implementation of safety and health programmes at shop- floor level.
As a result the number of reported injuries on duty across the company’s 25 workshops in Nairobi has reduced from 37 in 2011 to four throughout 2014. The amount of working days lost through injuries or ill health also fell from 207 in 2011 to just five in 2014.
Says Carlos Andrade, RVR Group chief executive, ‘RVR’s management identified the increasingly important need to focus on organisational factors that have an impact on the outcome of health and safety performance, with health and safety culture recognised as having a definitive impact.
‘That meant having visible safety leadership, commitment and accountability with the management engaging with shop floor staff and thereby nurturing a system that would change the culture, enable continuous improvement and substantially reduce injuries.’
Tom Nyaga, RVR’s occupational safety and health administration manager, said the company has rolled out similar measures at its satellite maintenance depots in Eldoret, Makadara and Mombasa following the scheme’s success.
He said, ‘It has had a great impact on the staff and operations of RVR in the workshops and depots. As well as improving safety and health it has led to improved productivity levels as it’s now easier to find parts and tools.
‘I had problems with getting staff to engage with it initially as some staff viewed the ‘5S’ concept as an unnecessary additional workload. I overcame this through training and appointing safety and health representatives for each and every shop.
‘We ensured all the supervisors adopted and practised the ‘5S’ system in all their depots.’
The efforts by RVR – a core subsidiary of African infrastructure Qalaa Holdings – have now received recognition from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
The institution’s Railway Group launched a new International Award this year to honour projects worldwide that have improved safety and health in the rail sector for employees and public.
Judges selected RVR as the inaugural winner of the award, highlighting the way that a relatively simple idea, promoted through training and good communication throughout the company, had positively changed workers’ behaviour.
Mr Nyaga, who has worked in the rail industry for 15 years and in occupational safety and health for the last four years, said, ‘The entire RVR team is equally delighted for this win, not only in Kenya but also in Uganda as well.
‘The win has triggered an internal competition for innovative ideas and local solutions to workplace challenges amongst the various facilities and functions within the company.’
This improvement in performance and the corresponding decline in the rate of accidents is an achievement that RVR shareholders are extremely proud of, said Karim Sadek, managing director, Transport and Logistics at Qalaa Holdings.
He said, ‘We have been actively involved in the turnaround efforts at RVR for the past five years, through a multi-point rehabilitation programme that has seen the company make a quantum leap in operating standards.
‘Safety, reliability, increased hauling capacity, and simultaneous improvements to passenger and cargo service are at the core of the new RVR.’
The IOSH award received entries from companies based in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. They were judged by an expert panel which included representatives from IOSH and the IOSH Railway Group, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and the RSSB.
GS Engineering & Construction in Singapore was highly commended for its ongoing work to making scissor lift machinery safer for workers constructing new railway tunnels.
The company was inspired to act by past work-related injuries or deaths in Singapore related to the operation of scissor lifts – a type of mobile aerial platform used to work at height.
GS Engineering & Construction started developing a height limit switch system last year and has created a piece of technology that automatically stops a scissor lift from extending and colliding with a tunnel ceiling or another overhead obstruction.
The system uses limit switches on all four corners of the lift that are interconnected by nylon rope, and will trigger the switch if they come into contact with an obstacle.
Mohammad Hafiiz, registered workplace safety and health officer at GS Engineering & Construction, said the system had the potential to help reduce the risk of both the lifts and workers colliding with tunnel walls.
He said, ‘During the construction of tunnels there are many areas that require the use of a scissor lift.
‘Our hazard analysis noticed that if the scissor lift operator was unaware of the ceiling height and continued to extend the height of the scissor lift, there was a risk that they may suffer a serious injury or be killed if any part of the body became stuck in-between the scissor lift guard rails and the ceiling.’
Of the commendation, Mohammad added, ‘It is a strong motivation for us to go further in future and to improve on our innovations.
‘What is most important is the end result. Safety is not just about winning awards or titles but it is about seeing our workers going back home safely every single day.’
Keith Morey, chair of the IOSH Railway Group, said publicising initiatives being employed worldwide not only raises the profile of the companies involved, but also gives occupational safety and health professionals some new ideas.
He said, ‘We had a great selection of entries submitted and trying to measure and compare them was a challenge, but Rift Valley Railways ticked all of the boxes. It was also felt that GS Engineering & Construction’s idea had potential to not only be used widely in the rail sector but to also be used in other sectors, such as construction.
‘Sometimes it’s not the complex, calculated answer that is going to solve the problem. Simple changes can have a big impact on people’s behaviour and give a much better solution.’
RVR will be presented with the award at the IOSH Rail Industry Conference 2015, due to take place at the Congress Centre in London on 25 November.
Entries are currently open for IOSH Railway Group’s other annual award which recognises safety and health improvements in the UK rail industry. Like the international award, entries should be focussed around the theme of communication. The deadline for submissions is Friday, 25 September.
More details are available at www. iosh.co.uk/railwaygroup, or by emailing IOSH Networks Officer Julie Littlejohns at [email protected] The conference can also be followed on Twitter this year via the hashtag #IOSHrail15.