Do you think that you are a risk taker? When driving, would you carry on even though you are tired and should stop and rest? Do you always hold on to handrails when climbing stairs or escalators and do you always carry out a risk assessment before starting any practical work?

Your answer would probably depend on a number of factors. For example, are we talking about carrying out these activities at home or at work? Are we being asked these questions as an employee or are we asking these questions as an employer? Yes, you might drive whilst feeling tired but you would not want your employees to take that risk, or would you?

It’s all about managing risk and the associated maze of issues and options that present themselves. As a company, this level of accountability demands significant input and an unrelenting commitment to continuous improvement, which is why the Railway Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) hosts an annual event known as The Risk Management Forum to help advise and guide the railway industry. This year, the event was held at Network Rail’s Westwood Training Centre near Coventry and it was well attended by representatives from all parts of the railway industry.

Discussion changing

The first session focussed on emerging and changing safety risks. Gareth Llewellyn, Network Rail’s executive director for safety and sustainable development, outlined current thoughts on ‘what is risk?’ He also looked at how the discussion within Network Rail is changing quite significantly, from the reason ‘things’ happen to the controls that are in place and what progress is needed.

As an example, Gareth talked about signalling, level crossing, tunnelling and track risks and how they were measured and monitored and, unsurprisingly, they are all measured differently. Well you all knew that, didn’t you? However, when one starts to consider how these different risks can be compared, it becomes very difficult to understand how this can be achieved and, just as importantly, where the money should be best spent to reduce the risk and improve efficiency.

Same scale

In order to bring all the risks onto the same scale, Network Rail has embarked on a significant piece of work with Arthur D Little. One example of this conundrum is the management of Leaf Fall, which is most prevalent in the south-east of the railway network and, amongst other things, causes track circuits to fail. A tried and tested solution is to install axle counters which are immune to this seasonal hazard. The unanswered question is, once axle counters, which are not going to be affected by the Leaf Fall, have been installed, why not remove the track circuits? “No, no, no,” purists will say. “We need track circuits since they are very useful for detecting broken rails, another significant risk.” As Gareth stated, it is moving the conversation forward, involving a number of risks associated across a number of assets.

The discussion moved on to new technology. Should Network Rail stay in its comfort zone of using and maintaining tried and tested technology or should it embrace new technology with the associated risks that will come with it. Gareth is determined that it should be the latter and Network Rail should not be deterred from making changes, introducing innovation and rising to this challenge. He outlined the situation regarding standards and non-compliances that needs to be addressed to ensure that progress is never compromised.

Too many standards

At present, there are more than 1,600 Network Rail standards coupled with 4,000 temporary non-compliances, the number of which clearly indicates that the workforce is severely constrained by the content of the standards. Network Rail’s vision is to have a small number of mandatory business-critical rules supported by guidelines on how to do the job. This, according to Gareth, will then enable the workforce to be effective and innovative and to embrace new ideas and technology with enthusiasm, knowing that they are working within a framework of flexible risk controls.

As a final comment, Gareth stated that in the financial Control Period 5, Network Rail hopes to achieve a 50% reduction in train accident risk and to eliminate all fatalities and major injuries within its workforce.

Close Call

An infrastructure contractor’s perspective was given by Stuart Webster-Spriggs. VolkerRail’s HSQE director, Stuart acknowledged that many infrastructure contractors had traditionally analysed reactive indicators such as slips, trips and falls but stated that they now analyse a much healthier range of indicators. This is partly achieved by the RSSB designed Close Call system which is now used throughout the industry to capture any information submitted by the workforce about potential incidents, hazards or concerns. The Close Call system is especially designed to encourage front line staff who are most exposed to risk to report each and every safety concern they come across.

In conjunction with this, VolkerRail, alongside other infrastructure contractors, is working with RSSB on a research project named T953. This covers implementing and measuring safety performance from an infrastructure contractor’s perspective. The intention of the research is to provide contractors with guidelines on the effective use of both reactive and proactive safety related indicators. VolkerRail is trialling initial outcomes from this research.

One key area of risk recognised by all contractors is fatigue, especially when associated with road accidents. Stuart explained the improvement which a change in management style and attitude can achieve. This has led to VolkerRail implementing new procedures to encourage drivers to tell the truth, which has helped VolkerRail review its planning processes and start using information such as hotel bookings as an effective indicator of measuring potential fatigue.

Gareth Llewellyn, Network Rail’s executive director for safety and sustainable development, outlined current thoughts on ‘what is risk?’

VolkerRail has adopted the eleven Lifesaving Rules launched by Network Rail to highlight the core risks associated with working on the railway. The aim is to prevent serious harm to the workforce. Research covering the entire industry over the last 12 years highlighted where people’s lives were most at risk of having a life-changing or fatal injury. Network Rail asked more than 1,300 employees, contractors and unions to help write the rules which can be found on Network Rail’s and many other web sites.

Deep alliance

The session then moved onto “the first deep alliance” which began in spring 2012. Mark Starkey from South West Trains (SWT) explained that this alliance is an alliance between SWT and Network Rail working together to improve performance and safety throughout the newly formed “South Western Railway.” There is one managing director for the train and infrastructure directorate but each company, SWT and Network Rail, is a legal entity and therefore has its own safety certificates. The alliance has the potential to create confusion for both staff and managers but the overall objective is to bring the two companies together, working as one team with the same objectives and sharing the same challenges. It is an exciting and worthwhile project.

RSSB is facilitating a number of workshops required to develop common ground for the alliance. The intention is to harmonise standards and to develop a risk profile for their South Western Railway which is committed to sharing good practice, the Lifesaving Rules mentioned earlier and Close Call reporting. Already it is making significant progress with possession planning and running a train service. The ultimate aim is one team with one solution. It is an important project that, hopefully, will be cascaded across the industry in time.

Risk management elsewhere

The second session included a presentation from Maria Hedqvist, senior advisor with the Swedish operator Trafikverket, about a road/ rail vehicle that struck the side of a passenger train which was travelling at 133km/hr. The controls in place to manage the risks were minimal as were the standards. In fact, there were very few rules to protect the adjacent open line when such work was underway. It reminds us how far the British railway industry has progressed. It also reminds us why these rules were put in place in the first case and it is a challenge for Network Rail as they start to reprofile their standards.

Chris Jackson, a partner in the firm Burges Salmon LLP, discussed changes to the regulatory framework and case law and considered how the legal process would play out if a major train accident, on the scale of Ladbroke Grove, were to occur today.

Dynamic risk assessment

There was also a slot for London Underground Ltd (LUL) to talk about dynamic risk assessment during the Olympics. It relates to the future of standards and the ability for the workforce to show initiative and efficiency whilst not compromising the need for protection. Tony Matthews explained that, even though proper risk assessments were carried out and risk mitigating controls put in place, the volume of people involved was significant, the possibilities and options were endless and the risks stretched to the unthinkable. LUL decided

that it was necessary to create a default position where immediate, on the spot discussions with colleagues could take place and changes be introduced.

This all happened in a Transport Coordination Centre specially designed for the Olympics. In addition, there was one person identified who had the authority to change the rule book. However, everything needed to be understood and recorded with clear accountability throughout the process. This additional flexibility enabled LUL to move an unprecedented 62 million people across London over 16 days. Throughout the Olympics, plans were amended to suit the immediate circumstances and risk controls were adjusted to suit the ever-changing scene. It was an excellent example of empowering people to do what is appropriate at the time, quickly, effectively and in a controlled and safe manner. Dynamic Risk Assessment is a default safety position, one that appears appropriate for a progressively-minded railway industry.

Public perception

Tim Rakow, reader in psychology at the University of Essex, gave an interesting insight to the public’s perception of risk. The results from an experiment showed how the public perceive risk differently depending on their reference point, i.e. they show more aversion to removing a safety system than introducing that same system even if the safety benefits and business case are identical.

Finally Jens Rolfson, Specialist Advisor at DNV, closed the presentations by talking about safety culture and the importance of using structured interviews to gauge it instead of relying on questionnaires alone. A questionnaire can discover “what”, interviews find out “why”.

The event, organised and presented by RSSB, was commendable and addressed many issues that a rail engineer has to address. The underlying message was about balance, understanding the risk, managing it and getting the best result possible whilst maximising productivity. In addition, it was also about knowing
how safe you really are, not deluding yourself or your organisation, and listening to your workforce’s concerns.