In our safety culture survey last year, we asked respondents from across management and frontline staff to tell us how they felt about safety reporting in their company.   How easy was it to report?  How seriously were they taken?   One sector performed better than all the others – Network Rail (NR) contractors.  So, we asked them into our office to find out what we can learn from them.

When we polled CIRAS newsletter readers to get some insight into safety culture across our membership, around 1,000 responded.  We asked respondents about their experience of reporting safety concerns internally.  


Source: CIRAS Safety Culture Survey (Summer 2017)

These findings don’t reflect the culture of any one company in any particular sector - but they do suggest that there might be something to learn from the contractor community.  With that in mind, we invited our NR contractors to our London office to talk about their approach to safety reporting. 

We started by asking them why they thought they had scored well in our survey.  They felt they have historically had to demonstrate sound safety practices to win business, so it’s possible they are just a little further along their cultural journey – safety reporting is potentially more embedded in their business and acceptable to their workers. 

Then, we asked J Murphy, VolkerRail and Amey to present their thoughts on what worked for them.  Here are the common themes that emerged:

Investing in cultural development

Safety reporting behaviour is fundamentally influenced by company culture, and several delegates had invested in cultural development to instil the right behaviours in their workforce.  Infrastructure specialist J Murphy has implemented a Cultural Development Programme which aims to embed values through induction and a series of workshops for new staff. 

Leading from the top

Culture is driven by the behaviour of the senior team, and our speakers shared how they encourage their leaders to set the right example.  Amey talked about their ‘Visible Felt Leadership’ initiative.  Amey directors must engage regularly with employees to get a first-hand understanding of the risks they face.  They are expected to take personal ownership of challenges and act to address them.

Making it easy

On a purely practical front, workers are more likely to report safety concerns if it’s easy to do.  Our delegates had looked for ways to make real-time reporting straightforward.  It can be about using technology: VolkerRail and Amey are using the Airsweb mobile app.  But VolkerRail also provide a 24/7 phoneline for staff wanting to report concerns.

Encourage positive reporting

All our speakers stressed the need to gather feedback from workers when things go well.  Their reporting mechanisms are set up to accept positive safety conversations as well as health and safety concerns.  This shifts the balance away from a blame culture and recognises we can learn from what goes right as well as what goes wrong.  VolkerRail recently analysed their reported safety conversations, and 85% of them were positive.

Feeding back

And finally, it is vitally important to ‘close the loop’ by feeding back to workers how their reporting has led to positive change.  As well as showing that reporting is taken seriously, it also enables the learning to be shared across the workforce.   Examples of mechanisms our speakers used for feeding back included use of ‘You said - We did’ whiteboards on site, ‘Feedback Friday’ events for frontline workers and recognising positive reporting behaviour through award schemes.

Speakers at the event were:

  • Craig Denholm and Mandy Bagshaw, J Murphy
  • Stuart Webster Spriggs, VolkerRail
  • Joseph Docherty, Amey
  • Shaun Neville, Jacobs
  • Dr Paul McNulty, Structural-Safety

You can view all the presentations (Best practice in safety reporting slides) on the members’ portal at – contact us at if you need your login details resent.