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Definitely not superficial claptrap

Whoever you speak to at operational level, you hear the same consistent message coming back: the railway needs more rules. Unzipping your vest, opening an envelope, wiping your arse - all these activities are currently beyond the reaches of our procedural safety net, leaving the serious associated risks uncontrolled.

Last year, a time and motion specialist from Grimsby went home in tears after inadvertently stapling his cheese sandwich to the office clerk. He was not competent to use the stapler but had become agitated when his allocation of Blu-Tack ran out. And only three weeks ago, a cleaner’s left eyebrow was left slightly raised as a result of her hand coming into contact with a blob of chocolate mousse in the café at Tiverton Parkway. Unsure what to do, she removed it with a blow torch. Only spillages with a lower viscosity had been addressed in the task briefing pack.

Recognising that such shortfalls are untenable in an industry with such a positive and enlightened safety culture, Network Rail has recently launched “11 new Lifesaving Rules to highlight the core risks associated with working on the railway. The aim is to prevent serious harm to the workforce.” Too late for the office clerk, of course.

This is an initiative that’s been long in the making. Those 11 rules come in response to a research programme that encompassed “our entire industry over the last 12 years, showing us where people’s lives were most at risk. This helped us identify six areas where employees and contractors were at risk of having a life-changing or fatal injury. We then asked over 1,300 people within Network Rail for their help in writing the Rules, as well as our contractors, unions, HR and other companies where Lifesaving Rules had made people safer.”

The output is outstanding. There’s a film, posters, booklets, leaflets, presentations; even a postcard. The seven people who responded to NR’s feedback request (four of whom thought they were applying for a $5million inheritance from a Nigerian prince) have done the industry proud, bringing revelation where previously there was only inconsequence. Prepare to be dumbfounded as I now reveal those six high-risk areas unearthed by the analysts and the 11 safeguards that will forever bring an end to the harm they cause.

Prepare to be dumbfounded...

Are you ready?

Knickers tightly gripped?

Risk area 1: contact with trains

Deep breath. Take a moment to compose yourself.

This does not relate to the use of phones, radio, semaphore, carrier pigeons or Ouija boards to communicate with drivers and guards. No. It’s about how to avoid being struck by a train. You might have been confused by the absence of the word “struck”. There is only one rule you need to know:

  • Always have a valid safe system of work in place before going on or near the line.

It just has to be valid, not necessarily suitable.

Risk area 2: working with electricity

This is not about performing your duties with vigour and enthusiasm. No. It’s to do with work on the overhead line equipment or conductor rails (please ignore if work is only taking place very close to them). There are three rules:

  • Always have a valid permit to work, where required.
  • Always test before applying earths.
  • Never assume equipment is isolated - always test before touch.

Who cares what the COSS said at his briefing. Not important. You must test all equipment…whether you’re competent to do so or not.

Risk area 3: working at height

This does not specifically relate to projects at Shap or Beattock summits. No. It’s about any activity where you could fall and break something, such as your hardhat. Two rules must be followed:

  • Unless it is clear other protection is in place, never work at height without a safety harness.
  • Always use equipment for working at heights that is fit for purpose.

That string you’ve been using to dangle off the bridge - make sure the ends aren’t frayed.

Risk area 4: working with moving equipment

This is not about that inspirational Unimog which, against all odds, won the tug of war at the Paralympics. No. It’s about activities close to machines or devices with moving parts. Just one rule here:

  • Never enter the agreed exclusion zone, unless directed to by the person in charge.

And if the person in charge has a vendetta against you, tough.

Risk area 5: driving

This relates to cars and vans, not horses or sheep. Well, not generally sheep. Two rules to remember:

  • Always wear a seat belt when in a moving vehicle and always obey the speed limit.
  • Never use a hand-held device or programme a hands-free device while you are driving a road vehicle.

But feel free to do so while driving an on-track machine. Have you tried ‘Shoot the Zombirds’ for Android? Awesome.

Risk area 6: taking responsibility

This is not about management delivering more than just platitudes and over-simplistic rules. No. This is about increasing the burden placed on your shoulders. Two rules here:

  • Never undertake an activity unless you have been trained, assessed as competent, and have the right equipment.
  • Never drive or work while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

…unless directed to by the person in charge.

And supporting these new rules will be a regime of disciplinary “consequences”, in force from this month. When a breach is identified, management and investigators will use a “decision tree” - yes, you read that right - to check that mistakes and system errors are being identified, as well as deliberate violations. So could you now be sacked for a speeding offence? You betcha, depending on the circumstances. What do the unions make of all this? They are apparently “working with us on what the consequences for breaking a rule will be”, according to Network Rail’s briefing blurb.

A workgroup enjoys the benefits of the 11 new rules, ensuring all members are now fully immunised against the risks posed by approaching trains.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the safety professionals have done a fabulous job here, unequivocally justifying the salaries they’ve been paid over the last 12 years and the eye-watering cost of the research. This has been a significant project that will transform safety forever. Next time you head out onto the track, you will do so confident in the knowledge that you are now fully immunised again risk.

As it asserts in the Safety Leadership Pack, “We believe if we’d had these rules over the past 12 years we could have prevented many of the injuries and fatalities that occurred.” Absolutely right - there’s nothing at all delusional about that statement. Anyone who thinks that safety improvement is the product of a demonstrated managerial commitment to doing the right thing is out of touch with reality. How could that possibly change perceptions and culture at the front line? More rules, more words - clearly the best solution, and the only one that could be found at the back of the Board Room cupboard.

Story added October 2012

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