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A safety net when all else fails

40845 Agency staff fear raising safety concerns

March 2010 in Network Rail and Suppliers

tagged Rules and procedures Supervision and Management Communication and teamwork Knowledge Skills and experience Not Specified

An experienced COSS fears raising legitimate safety concerns because client contractors often ask for agency staff to be replaced if they are perceived as obstructionist.

The COSS, working for an agency himself, says that business pressure sometimes overrides the need to carry out work safely. Real life examples that have been raised on site by COSS agency staff - who have then either found themselves quickly replaced or simply not invited back to work for a particular client - include:

  • requesting someone to stop working when leaning over unsafely from the top of a ladder;
  • querying site paperwork with no track diagrams;
  • querying the lack of pre-possession meetings; and
  • expecting COSSs to leave a site unattended for a while.

The reporter is concerned that despite the promotion of a "no blame‟ safety culture, experienced agency staff committed to following the correct rules and procedures can find themselves in a dilemma. A client contractor can effectively remove a member of agency staff at his discretion, a reality that may frequently inhibit the reporting of genuine safety concerns. And there is little or no protection for safety-minded individuals when raising a concern elicits a negative reaction simply because it comes from a member of agency staff.

The reporter suggests that this is a common problem and asks that Network Rail consider the implications where client contractors work with agencies. Stopping work on safety grounds is far more difficult to do as a member of agency staff.

He poses the following questions:

  • What should agency staff do if they have a real-time safety concern to raise about work being carried out on a client contractor‟s site, and are unable to speak directly to the client about it?
  • In the best interests of safety, can any reassurance be given that raising such a concern won‟t affect future employment prospects?

Response from Network Rail

Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for raising these concerns.
If anyone has a genuine concern for staff and/or infrastructure safety, and is unwilling to raise with his or her employer or the site management staff of a particular project, they should use CIRAS or the whistleblowers hotline.

However, any issues which affect the safety of the line that need to be addressed immediately should be progressed through the signaller and route control.
The point the reporter makes regarding assurances about future employment is difficult for Network Rail to respond to as Network Rail isn't the direct employer in circumstances where agency staff are involved.

Suffice to say that Network Rail encourages all contract staff to adopt an open and honest reporting policy. This in turn ultimately leads to an improved safety culture across the business. This is useful for best practices to be observed and shared and indeed for poor practices to be highlighted and eliminated.

That said, if the reporter knows of any specific instance where a member of staff has been disciplined or prevented from working for raising safety concerns or if a member of staff has been told to ignore any unsafe practices then Network Rail would like to know and would certainly investigate these thoroughly.

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