HomeHSEQEmbedding safety into 4LM

Embedding safety into 4LM

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Managing risk on a project isn’t just about being the safety police, says Sarah; it is much more important to support and encourage safe practice.

On something like the Four Lines Modernisation (4LM) project, probably one of the largest and most complex resignalling programmes in the world, that philosophy is being put to the test.

4LM is bringing a modern moving block CBTC signalling system to the District, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, collectively known as the sub-surface lines. The project will be commissioned in phases between 2019 and 2023. Once complete, it will allow 32 trains per hour to run at peak times, increasing capacity by more than a third.

As well as employing in-cab signalling equipment, new lineside infrastructure will be needed across the 250 miles of railway that makes up the sub-surface network. Delivering this system of new cables, masts and sensors is a team of around 400 engineers.

Putting the size and complexity of the project to one side, it is the first time Thales has been the principal contractor, as defined by the Construction Design Management Regulations, for a London Underground project. In taking the lead, Thales has an even greater responsibility to ensure the project is delivered safely. Embedding a strong safety message in terms of governance, compliance and leadership throughout the project and its supply chain is therefore essential


4LM has maintained a good safety record, with no major incidents since the project began and more than 3.5 million hours currently worked without a RIDDOR.

The Underground’s Victorian infrastructure means asbestos and lead paint are an ever- present concern. There are also activities which require working at height or excavation – all of which have to be delivered within the limited working windows of an operational railway.

‘There’s also the challenge of getting pre-construction information – historical information on the network that we’re installing on,’ says Sarah, who understands London Underground’s infrastructure better than most, having worked for Transport for London (TfL) and its supply chain for several years before joining Thales.

‘One of the other challenges we face stems from the fact we’re not the only contractor working on London Underground – far from it. We’re constantly interfacing with other contractors, making sure that our works or their works don’t import risk or adversely affect safety so that we can work alongside them while keeping delays and issues to a minimum.’


Sarah is keen to talk about behaviour- based safety and what the approach tells the project about why incidents occur.

‘The railway industry is full of rules and regulations, but incidents still occur,’ says Sarah. ‘So it isn’t just about process, it’s about getting people’s behaviour and mindset in the right place. Bringing them on the continuous safety journey is essential. Thinking of ways to encourage them to look after themselves and their colleagues rather than just following the rules for fear of getting caught if they don’t is key to sustain the positive attitude in the long term.’

To help staff understand this risk, Thales brought in actors to help deliver interactive behaviour-based training workshops. The sessions were intended to show how someone’s actions, whether they’re on site or in the office, can influence safety. Footage was filmed in the field to show the potential consequences that decisions made miles away from a work site can sometimes have.

The wellbeing of staff has also come into focus through the delivery of 4LM. Thales employs what it calls ‘health surveillance’ and has introduced wellbeing programmes which offer advice on improving sleep patterns and diet. ‘Also there’s stress to think about too,’ says Sarah, who had studied sports ergonomics and human factors prior to becoming more involved in operational safety. ‘There are lots of people working with a challenging, fast-paced project, and it’s critical to look after the people who deliver it as much as we do with the milestones and direct project costs.’


Thales came into 4LM with the experience of successfully delivering similar radio-based CBTC signalling systems on the Jubilee and Northern lines. However, it’s important not to feel too comfortable, says Sarah who, in setting the safety strategy for the project, has put complacency at the top of the agenda.

‘We must do all the things to keep safety fresh and drive down that complacency because once you become complacent, the risk of injury and incident increases massively.’

The scale of resignalling the sub-surface lines, which accounts for around 40 per cent of the London Underground network, is also much bigger. ‘The vastness of this project has necessitated us bringing in a lot of new people,’ says Sarah. It has been a case of trying to address any potential skills gap without losing the knowledge gained on earlier projects.

A keen distance runner, Sarah compared managing complacency to completing a marathon; both require the same focus and determination to reach the end safely and on time. ‘Avoiding complacency on a long-term project such as 4LM is a continuous challenge which will be present for as long as the project programme is there. It takes tenacity and energy to keep focussed.’


Sarah’s role, like Thales as a business, is global in its nature. In fact, the design team for 4LM is based in Canada, requiring a close working relationship with the team in London to overcome the idiosyncrasies of the capital’s 150-year-old metro system. It is at the design stage that a focus on safety can reap some of the biggest rewards.

There are a number of examples on 4LM where early interaction at the design phase has engineered out potential hazards. The installation of the radio equipment requires a significant amount of excavation, which involves the inherent risk of striking buried services. By using a certain kind of mast and installation technique this risk has been largely removed. Road-rail vehicles have also been used to install the concrete bases for the masts, eliminating any manual handling risk.

It is also at the design phase that the whole lifecycle of the infrastructure is considered, allowing certain materials, which could be potentially hazardous when the asset is decommissioned, to be avoided entirely.


Every three months, London Underground meets with Thales and its various subcontractors at the project’s Zero Harm Forum to proffer updates on the project’s safety performance and discuss any issues. The last event was hosted by Thales at its 4LM office in Beckton.

‘Cast your mind back four years, there is no comparison,’ says Sarah, considering how much the industry’s health and safety culture has matured since she began her career as a HSE advisor in 1997. Even since taking on her current role in 2011, the perception of what health and safety can offer has changed, says Sarah.

‘One of the most powerful messages I think I’ve made is that by employing good safety practice you are saving money, you’re improving your reputation, you’re driving down delays, which again has cost implications, and you’re lowering your risk of getting adverse publicity as a result of an incident. It really does have a huge impact on the bottom line.’

She added, ‘One of the things we’ve focussed on a lot, which has been successful, is making sure that safety isn’t seen as the safety police, it’s not seen as a bolt on, it’s seen as a real helper and facilitator for the projects… We’re not there to catch you out, we’re there to help you and also to be the conscience of the business.’

One way Thales is doing this is by sending senior managers out to site. Says Sarah, ‘That allows them to learn a lot but it also shows a massive commitment to the workforce that these senior people do go out at two o’clock in the morning and get on site.’

It’s a balancing act, says Sarah, who has worked to promote a blame-free culture where staff feel empowered to report incidents. Managers turning up with clipboards and red pens doesn’t do much for morale. ‘We’ve done a lot of training with our senior managers on safety engagement, safety tours and their accountability for safety, so that they go in with an open and collaborative attitude rather than I’m coming up to check on you.’

As 4LM progresses, Sarah looks forward to seeing the role of her team develop. Closer working and collaboration are areas where she’d like to see further improvement across the industry as a whole. The work on 4LM, however, demonstrates the way in which health and safety is now more involved at all levels, implementing ideas that will actually improve people’s lives and not just prevent incidents which could ruin them.