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Managing competency brings improved safety

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James Fox, commercial director and co-founder at 3squared, explains how technology, in the form of digital apps, is consistently driving safety and operational working standards across the sector

Organisations at all levels of the railway supply chain are increasingly seeking to improve both the understanding and competence of their operational staff. From train drivers and public-facing crews, to factory and depot engineering teams, railway companies need to support their teams with consistent and reliable training and competency management, and in real time.

The need for heightened dependability in competency management can be considered to go back to the 1999 Ladbroke Grove train crash. Since that incident, train operators have been focused on reducing their level of SPADs (signals passed at danger) and introducing systems to ensure consistently high levels of competency.

While there are many factors which can lead to SPADs, they often occur at low speeds when the driver has applied the brakes too late. This is usually down to poor judgement by the driver or a dip in competency level and understanding, leading to human error.

Traditional paper-based competency management systems are still widely used to generate a safety critical portfolio for each driver that could be hundreds of pages long. This valuable information often sits on a shelf and, while it may well get updated, assessors do not have the time to sift through all this data to plan future assessments.

Thus, with these paper-based systems, it can be difficult to identify areas of concern where future training is required, leading to gaps in knowledge or a need to refresh staff competency in specific skills.

A digital solution

Rail operators, train builders and contractors are therefore looking to digitalisation to provide them with a much safer solution to the issue of competency management and compliance. 3Squared’s RailSmart suite is an excellent and proven tool that helps to improve operations by providing an accurate, easily accessible and mobile picture of an individual’s overall competency, which is fundamental to enhancing the safety of the rail network.

One major advantage of using digital solutions is that an assessor’s time is freed up to support, develop and manage safety-critical employees better. Managers can increase the amount of time they spend on in-line management and are thus enabled to identify individuals in need of training.

A direct result of this digitalisation of the training and recording schedule is that the risk of any further operational incidents is reduced. This gives managers the time and ability to understand team members on a personal level and discover how human factors and other influences may be affecting or influencing their work.

A safer industry

Using an app to provide the formal grading process and consistent feedback helps to raise the bar of competency. It is a well-known fact that the more competent individuals are in performing their work, the less likely they are to have an operating incident. As well as the obvious safety benefits, it also means better organisational performance and, in the case of the driver-scenario mentioned above, improved punctuality, better vehicle performance and reduced wear and related maintenance costs.

As these apps are fully integrated, they involve everyone within the business and, as a result, improve employee understanding of their roles in relation to one another, which supports the delivery of a safer railway system.

East Midlands Railway, Bombardier Transportation and GBRf, long established clients of 3Squared, are experiencing many benefits from using RailSmart software. It helps to reduce both assessment planning time and the amount of time spent on completion and mapping of competency against formal assessment paperwork, which represents a potential saving of several thousand hours per year. Recording assessments digitally using iPads means benchmarks can be set and areas for development can be identified, driving up the standards of competency for the rail industry and so reducing operational incidents and their associated performance delays.

Using apps of this type, assessors can include a greater number of competencies within a system and manage them consistently across the business. They can also carry out live assessments and give real-time feedback to employees, whereas, in the past, paper-based systems meant it could take days, if not weeks, before staff received feedback on their performance.

Software apps such as RailSmart also remove the risk of administration errors and provide real-time reporting of compliance against standards. These reports are crucial for rail management to understand how assessors are grading their teams, driving improvement within a business.

These apps therefore allow rail assessment teams to spend more time with their drivers and less time on administration, while simultaneously providing reassurance to the rail operator that it is actively managing its operational risks.

For more information about the RailSmart suite of products, call 0333 121 3333 or email [email protected].

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