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A done deal - or is it?

As a staff representative, I have spent many days at consultation meetings.

In the rail industry, ‘consultation’ means that the manager has decided what changes he is going to make but, as a result of legislation or other agreements, he is obliged to give staff the opportunity to look at his proposals, ask questions and make constructive comments or alternative suggestions. The staff representatives would also attempt to have parts of the consultation document transferred to the negotiation procedures.

At the meeting, the management team would listen to those staff suggestions, have a short recess and then announce that, having taken all contributions into consideration, they would now implement the original changes in full. A start date would be announced - usually the following Monday - after which they would thank everyone for their attendance and wish us all a safe journey home. It was left to the representative to explain to the staff why management had not taken their counter proposals seriously.

A management trainee learns how to deal with staff representatives. The ear defenders are surgically attached.
Photo: jjay69

Move forward a few years and let’s examine a new type of consultation, as set down within RAIB’s processes.

An incident or accident happens and RAIB is called in to investigate. As an independent authority, it has many powers and can go anywhere, inspect anything, talk to anybody, and gather information and evidence from the scene. That evidence can be removed for further forensic examination. The Branch ponders all this material over a period of time and then reports, in full, on the accident and makes recommendations to the industry. The report will be published for all to see.

So where does consultation come in, you ask?

I did miss out a small but very important part of the process. RAIB, having taken up to a year - perhaps more - to investigate and write its draft report, will then enter a period of consultation with stakeholders before publication. In other words, having spent months taking evidence from everyone involved, it goes back to those very same parties to verify the accuracy of its findings and conclusions, providing them with an opportunity to identify any issues that they believe have not been taken into account.

This kind of consultation is like being picked up by a stretch limo after missing the last bus home.

This kind of consultation is like being picked up by a stretch limo after missing the last bus home.

It does of course take time for stakeholders to read and understand the report before adding comments or complaining about statements that get close to the bone. This delays the report’s publication with those all-important findings and recommendations. Safety improvements are held up while companies have their second say to make sure they are not blamed for anything.

Now that’s consultation…safety style.

Story added 1st December 2009

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