This year, CIRAS saw some interesting reports relating to seasonal issues such as the impact of extreme weather, and crowding during the Christmas period. We know there’s a wealth of experience across our membership on preparing for specific times of the year, so we ran some events this November to gather insights from our members on the seasonal issues they face. 

A total of 89 delegates attended the six events, with representation from the tram, bus, rail, supplier and contractor communities. There were three key discussions: the safety issues they face and what they are doing about them; barriers they have overcome; and what they think the future will look like.  

What are the safety issues – and what are you doing about them?

Common safety issues raised were: the physical impact of weather conditions, ensuring business continuity, staff welfare and PPE, driving risk, stranded passengers and workers, and public behaviour. Delegates shared how they deal with these issues, and we’ve selected some highlights to create an ‘ideas catalogue’ for you. Some are quite specific, but many are completely transferable.

Winter safety

Assurance and resilience

  • Agreed winter safety procedures and compliance audits
  • Increase staffing and shift lengths to reduce risk of disruption during winter weather
  • Deploy office staff to help with tasks such as gritting and snow clearing
  • Running rail vehicles overnight to prevent overhead lines freezing

Winter driving

  • Winter driving packs for staff (water, hand warmers, high-vis vest, wind up torch and scraper)
  • Briefings on vehicle winter readiness covering checking tyres, fluid levels, lights, packing a shovel
  • Provide onsite checks for staff vehicles in depots
  • Advanced driver training for staff Welfare and PPE Run winter welfare campaigns on flu, winter driving, PPE Stock passenger trains with supplies such as foil blankets, baby milk, extra food and water Invest in PPE to keep warm and dry (thermal suits, gloves)
  • Head torches for staff working in the dark Signpost guidance on staying safe after dark (for example through the Suzy Lamplugh Trust)
  • Drying room for wet, dirty PPE
  • Onsite wind shelters
  • 'Restart after Christmas' - event to tackle low mood and refresh safety awareness
  • Mental Health First Aid to address seasonal wellbeing including Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Advent calendar on social media – new piece of safety advice each day

Lone working

  • Fit trackers on work vehicles
  • Dual SIM phones to increase signal coverage 'Lifeline app' - enables lone worker to 'check in' with call centre
  • Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots in welfare vans which travel to site

Summer/Autumn safety

Ensuring vehicles are prepared for the weather

  • Overhaul onboard air conditioning systems well in advance of summer
  • Fit louvred doors and windows, or fans in train or bus cabs
  • Paint rail points and running rails with white or reflective paint to reduce buckling risk
  • Fit blinds to tackle low sun glare

Welfare and PPE

  • Run summer welfare staff briefings on sun protection, hydration, fatigue
  • Issue sunscreen daily in sachets, to encourage staff to use every day
  • Relax uniform rules such as permitting drivers to wear short sleeves, shorts and remove tie
  • Wrist bands monitoring time in sun, indicating when safe time exceeded
  • Run refrigerated welfare van to work sites
  • Invest in PPE such as breathable clothing, vented hard hats, polarised sunglasses
  • Ensure first aid kits include treatments for bites, stings, hay fever
  • Portable shaded rest areas on work sites
  • Amend shifts to enable people to work at cooler parts of the day

What barriers are you facing and how are you overcoming them?

1. Compliance

Some delegates have found it challenging to get staff to comply with seasonal procedures and PPE. They spoke of staff removing PPE during the heatwave, or wearing non-compliant clothing. They:

  • involved staff in planning seasonal procedures
  • invested in seasonally appropriate PPE
  • briefed staff on the importance of compliance 
  • used internal channels such as Yammer to recognise staff for good practice

2. Rules and procedures

Some contractors talked about the difficulty complying with contract conditions and procedures which were not designed for lengthy periods of adverse weather. Two examples were given:

  • Difficulty getting trackside when too many contractors need access at the same time. 
  • Difficulty in complying with contracts when the weather is too bad to work. 

One member (QTS) addressed the first challenge by co-ordinating their work programme with other affected contractors to ensure they were not competing for the same slots.  

3. Public expectation

The expectation that transport services will run whatever the weather can lead to frustration and conflict in the face of delays and cancellations. Many delegates harnessed social media to keep their customers and staff updated in real time.  Images can illustrate the real severity of situations, and inviting the public to post their own updates can generate a community feel.  

4. Confusion over roles and responsibility

Extreme weather conditions increase the need for transport operators to be flexible and collaborate effectively. For example, train operators worked together during the winter storms of 2018 by lifting ticket restrictions. However, both staff and the public experienced confusion about where and when tickets were valid. The key to overcoming this is robust advance planning across all operators involved, and use of social media to keep staff and the public up to date.

5. Resource shortages

When bad weather hits, difficulties in staff getting to work can lead to insufficient staff in place. Delegates recommended planning early and building in contingencies. Specific examples included planning longer shifts with more staff on hand, training office staff in seasonal operational duties, and arranging local accommodation for staff to reduce risk of them being unable to travel to work.

6. Cost

Buying additional PPE and increasing staffing costs money, and as weather conditions are unpredictable, there’s no guarantee that these additional resources will be needed.  For some members, this caused challenges in persuading senior managers to invest.  One member tackled this by inviting managers to spend time working on the front line to experience conditions first hand, and speak to the staff who are most affected in bad weather. 

How might planning for the seasons change in the future?

There was a consensus that planning well in advance helps reduce the cost and impact of issues when they arise. Three other themes emerged from discussions.   

1. Exploring the link between seasonal planning and environmental sustainability

New environmental legislation coupled with changes in weather may present opportunities to operate in a greener and more sustainable way. Some members have already responded by fitting solar panels to offices to take advantage of an anticipated increase in sunlight, and using waste from vegetation clearances to produce pellets used to heat office buildings. 

2. Recognising and planning for unpredictability

Evidence suggest that adverse weather events are expected to become more common, last longer but be less predictable Late frosts or early snows can catch people unawares, thus exacerbating safety risks. Some members reported they are adding ‘shoulders’ on their traditional seasonal periods, so they have contingency plans in place for unseasonal weather.

3. Supporting new areas for research

Members felt that, as seasonal conditions change, there will be a demand for new research to inform management of risks in the future. For example, train operators currently respond to overheated rails by implementing temporary speed restrictions.  New ways of tackling this may be needed. Similarly, research into and testing new forms of PPE may benefit all our members.

Take a look at the findings of the project Tomorrow’s Railway and Climate Change Adaptation; at https://www.sparkrail.org/Lists/Records/DispForm.aspx?ID=24138 You must register for SPARK to access it, but registration is open for free to everyone.