Over the years, we have been contacted by thousands of workers who have health, safety or wellbeing concerns they feel unable to report internally. We therefore know quite a lot about why our readers may find it difficult to speak up sometimes.

It is our role to listen to your concerns and help facilitate a resolution. Sticking your head above the parapet can be a tough call sometimes, especially if you have already tried. In fact, 75 per cent of you tell us that you have already tried reporting internally, but have been frustrated with the response.

Besides helping avert a potentially serious accident, the intelligence provided by you on the ground can be invaluable and help organisations learn - it often plays a role in driving safety improvements. When you raise a concern with CIRAS, there is a chance it will make a real difference, not just to yourself, but to your colleagues also. Good practice can be shared across different transport sectors and beyond.

Overcoming the barriers

So why do people feel they can’t speak up? Blame has been cited in research as the top reason staff feel unable to raise concerns, but other reasons include:

  • Fear - often generated by a blame culture, it kills off the very thought of reporting.
  • Lack of time - the busier one is, the less likely one will be to report.
  • Apathy - if staff feel no-one is listening, they will soon stop reporting no matter how much you encourage them.
  • A negative view of reporting - this isn’t surprising, given that our views are normally coloured by high profile incidents with nasty repercussions.

In certain sectors, where staff are on zero-hour contracts, there may be a perception that one’s job is at risk if a concern is highlighted. Reporters often name this as the reason why they chose to report confidentially to CIRAS. Knowing what to report can also be a barrier.

Some research from the healthcare sector suggests that as many as 30 per cent of staff do not know where to find a list of reportable incidents. Staff need to understand what kinds of events should be reported in the first place. If they don’t, it is a little unfair to expect them to raise their concerns.

The good news is that this is quite straightforward to fix. It is easy to draw up a list of all the reportable themes, then share it as widely as possible across the organisation. Everyone from the managing director through to the cleaner should know what they can report. Do you know exactly what can be reported at your organisation?

Speaking up about near misses

There is often less motivation to make a report if there has been a near miss where no-one has been injured. If you have recovered from a situation without anyone being hurt, making a report may just seem like unnecessary effort. But it is just as important to report in these situations if we want to prevent accidents.

This was the case with the accident at Sandilands in 2016, where seven people tragically lost their lives when a tram overturned on a bend. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) highlighted the fact that important intelligence from drivers, who had ‘recovered’ from similar situations, was not coming up through conventional reporting channels. This represented a massive, untapped learning opportunity. We can learn from things that go right just as much as from things that go wrong, and probably a lot more. Watch ‘Lessons from Sandilands - The Role of CIRAS’.

Changing the culture

Creating an environment where staff feel able to speak up often requires a change in organisational culture. It is essential to create an environment where people are not afraid to raise concerns. Remember that you can always speak up without the fear of any repercussions when you report to CIRAS.

Key points

Making the decision to speak up if you feel unsafe can be challenging sometimes. We can become fearful of the reaction we may receive, or a blame culture might stop us from voicing our concerns. There are other reasons too, but try to remember that:

  • You’re probably not alone. If something feels unsafe to you, it probably feels unsafe to your colleagues too.
  • Your manager could well be responsive. It may be possible to make things safer fairly quickly, if you act at the time and inform them of your concerns. Try to not let things fester.
  • Not having the time to report may feel like a legitimate reason, but think how much time it takes to deal with an incident!
  • If a near miss doesn’t lead to an incident it’s still worth reporting. Describing how you recovered from a mistake or situation could benefit others.
  • Speaking up is not necessarily about all the negatives. There are lots of positives worth speaking up about too. For example, you could let your team know (if it’s true):
         o How appreciative you are that everybody is going home safe
         o How safety is improving because people are listening
         o How people are demonstrating the right attitudes and behaviours.
  • Finally, remember that if all else fails, CIRAS is here to listen to your concerns. You can always speak to us in total confidence if you have any health, safety or wellbeing concerns.