Search this site
Delude Retreat Indemnify Prevaricate Squander

Rearranging the deckchairs

From time to time, the railway’s corporate politicians step forward with eyecatching manifestos to improve the lot of the on-track workforce. Of course, as their Westminster counterparts know only too well, it’s easier to make commitments than deliver on them.

A classic case is rule simplification. Back in 1999, Railway Safety (now RSSB) began a review of the Rule Book, promising to make instructions "easier to understand and remember". A project team was established, workshops were held, psychologists had their say, a production line of specialists drafted the words and the industry offered feedback. Four years later, a new generation of modules arrived which proved to be the identical twin of its predecessor.

Although cosmetically superior, the substance still lacked clarity, consistency and chronology. Anomalies and duplication remained. The structure defied logic and the much-hyped ‘plain’ English certainly wasn’t good English. It might have successfully navigated the sticky treacle of the approval process but it bypassed the Quality Control Department.

Today’s Rule Book poses a real problem for those who believe that safety is a function of blind compliance with one-size-fits-all instructions. If those instructions are not effectively communicated, how can practitioners properly apply them?

Before... After...

The first faltering step towards salvation may come in the form of the COSS Handbook - an antidote to the Rule Book - aiming to demystify the intricately knitted fog of instructions which has engulfed the COSS. It takes content from around 400 pages of modules and standards, puts them in a sensible order, adds some guidance, translates them into ‘normal’ English and offers them up in an 80 page booklet. It’s still too long and lacks the simplicity needed to fully engage with its audience but that’s a fault of the rules, not the handbook. It only covers the duties of a COSS when working with a group but a sister publication - the IWA Handbook - should soon emerge to fill the hole. In the meantime, the Rule Book is still required by COSSs who work alone.

It’s still too long and lacks the simplicity needed to fully engage with its audience but that’s a fault of the rules, not the handbook.

Network Rail has urged sponsors to provide COSSs with a copy of the handbook as soon as possible and, from 4th June, it will also be given to successful candidates on COSS training courses.

Of course the handbook is just another rearrangement of the deckchairs. What the end-user really needs is a simple framework of rules around which they can build a bespoke safe system to address site-specific risks. Sadly the health and safety nannies disagree, believing "if there’s a problem, throw some rules at it". The fog won’t really clear until the culture of resistance is challenged and the focus swings from quantity to quality. The corporate politicians have to defeat obstructive bureaucrats.

Story added 1st May 2005
Page Top

Front Page | Safety Valve | Jungle Ron | Newshound | Red Tape | On The Line
Four by Three | Forgotten Relics of an Enterprising Age | God's Own County | Image Library

© Four by Three 2014