Rail safety and health professionals urged to embrace new technology

13 November 2017

Technology can pave the way to safer and healthier ways of working in the rail industry, a major conference heard.

171113 Rail Industry Conference

With significant structural changes occurring in the UK’s industry, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) annual Rail Conference, sought to address the impact this has on worker protection.

It is thought the changes, which include the devolution of routes in Network Rail and new ways of working between major industry bodies, could destabilise established measures of risk controls and introduce new hazards.

But conference delegates heard that technology, particularly data systems, can mitigate against this.

Stuart Calvert, Early Contractor Involvement Lead for the Digital Railway Programme, said improved traffic management was one key area, leading to more reliable services which in turn means less disruption and congestion on platforms.

He also advocated the use of smart monitoring systems, which can provide huge data analysis of railways in real-time.

“This can mean more scheduled maintenance which means fewer risky situations for employees,” he said.

An example he cited was with work on signalling systems. Technology can be used to check for issues, reducing the need to do high-risk surveying work on busy lines and meaning fewer workers wearing orange coats on railways.

“If someone is wearing an orange coat, it means they are in a risky situation,” he added.

George Bearfield, Director of Systems Safety and Health for the Rail Safety and Standards Board, said a number of factors contribute to making the industry more high-risk than others, including close interaction with the public, exposure to the weather and ageing infrastructure.

He said it is important to invest in technology, including the availability of data, and develop systems and ways of managing the risks in the industry.

He said: “The vision is to get the right data to the right people. We need to embrace this brave new world of data and make the most of the opportunities that it provides.”

The conference, held at the Nottingham Belfry on Thursday 9 November, highlighted that health and wellbeing warrants the same level as attention as safety.

Gary Cooper, Director of Planning, Engineering and Operations at the Rail Delivery Group, said that issues including musculoskeletal disorders, mental health and fatigue are costing the industry more than £300 million each year.

He said: “The taxpayer spends a lot of money on the industry so we must look at ways of preventing so much money being lost.

“As the network is expanding, we are going to get thousands more employees in the industry. Some will be working split shifts while some will be working from home. No matter when or where they are working, their health and wellbeing must be considered.”

After the conference, Keith Morey, Chair of IOSH’s Railway Group, said:

“As our industry changes, it is key that we don’t lose sight of worker protection. It must remain a priority.

“Our conference highlighted these issues and provided really thought-provoking debate on how they can be overcome in a cost-effective manner.”

Notes for editors

IOSH is the Chartered body for health and safety professionals. With over 46,000 members in 120 countries, we’re the world’s largest professional health and safety organisation.

We set standards, and support, develop and connect our members with resources, guidance, events and training. We’re the voice of the profession, and campaign on issues that affect millions of working people.

IOSH was founded in 1945 and is a registered charity with international NGO status.

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