national rail safety week 2018: the top 3 issues affecting workers.

National Rail Safety Week is the time to discuss factors of health and safety and to raise train safety awareness around issues that may be overlooked, underperformed or misunderstood. It is a chance to focus on aspects of well-being and the problems that impact the rail workers of today. This year, we’re focusing on three network rail safety issues that we believe present the most dangers to the UK’s current rail workforce. 

Beating the ballast dust.

Ballast dust is a two-pronged risk. It can unhinge railway health and safety, as well as being an occupational health hazard. As you may be aware, Ballast are the stones under the train tracks, which over time and with a great deal of traction, wear down, producing ballast dust. This dust can create large clouds, impacting levels of visibility for both ground staff and drivers, meaning accidents such as collisions with lineside equipment or structures become more likely as indicators can become obstructed by the dust. 

Ballast contains silica dust, also known as Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS). Inhaling this dust can lead to silicosis, a serious and irreversible lung disease. Symptoms include chest tightness, a dry or chesty cough and shortness of breath. 

Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can be followed in order to decrease the risk of both incident and illness.

  • Stay away from areas containing ballast dust when not required to be in the area.

  • Wear PPE and RPE, as well as keeping protective equipment clean and functional. 

  • Shave within 8 hrs of starting a shift if wearing a tight-fitting face mask. This is a necessary step towards keeping your respiratory system safe!


Rail safety solutions: worker fatigue. 

Fatigue is an issue that is easily forgotten in fast-paced working environments and can put UK rail safety at risk. Some of the world’s most major incidents took place in the early hours of the morning or late at night, such as the Spuyten Duyvil Derailment and the Hatfield Rail Crash. Fatigue can impact performance, especially in jobs requiring awareness, vigilance, memory and reaction time. 

Fatigue is an issue affecting onboard staff and track workers alike. Train drivers and onboard staff may not have the same ease of rest stops that other transportation sectors benefit from and track workers involved in railway infrastructure services are often required to work unsociable hours and through the night. The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 (HASAWA) requires employers to protect the ‘health, safety and welfare’ of their employees, however, the culture of an organisation may also be a factor in whether the employee feels comfortable enough to express when they are feeling exhausted or need a break. If they fear reprisal, workers may not take breaks when needed and continue the work despite internal warning signs.

  • Fatigue management should include the implementation of appropriate policies, such as the design of working patterns. 

  • Shifts should not be too long, and there should be an appropriate resting time between the end of one working day and the start of another.

  •  Levels of fatigue should be monitored and workers and supervisors alike should be educated and informed about the risks of driving whilst tired. 


British rail: behavioural safety.

Behavioural safety considers the reasons behind accidents and the thought processes that allow them to happen. It is easy to apply to railroad safety and enables workers to effectively learn preventative measures and looks at people as rational beings who are concerned about their own health and their levels of safety in the workplace. 

There are various ways workplace accidents can be caused, but in 80% of these, employee behaviour is responsible. This is often due to factors like insufficient training, cutting corners on quick and easy tasks, and the inappropriate placement of machine equipment and tools. Employee mentality also has a lot to do with risk, as employees who have ‘always done something this way’ are likely to continue in their habits. If supervisors also have a lax attitude to health and safety, this feeds down to the workers. 

There are several actions that can significantly reduce incidents on site. 

  • Effectively communicating the risks that rail workers face, to the rail workers, is a great place to start. Not only does this improve staff relations, it encourages a pro-active safety culture in which everyone is responsible. 
  • Frequent briefings, and giving employees the power to call out unsafe actions when they see them helps eliminate risky behaviours. 

Workplace health and safety legislation is an important tool in keeping the workforce safe, effective and functional. The National Rail Safety Regulator is responsible for enforcing the legislation over various jurisdictional areas across the country. Areas covered are recorded on the National Rail Safety Register. Is your company on the list? Take a look here


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