January 2011 in Network Rail and Suppliers
A reporter is seeking clarification on Network Rail guidelines about rest periods in relation to signalling at London Bridge. The reporter is concerned about the effect of low staffing levels, long-term sickness and 'poor management' on Signallers' shift patterns at London Bridge. Signallers have apparently been working without adequate rest between shifts and some are covering shifts without enough training.
It is understood that it is mandatory for rest periods between shifts to be 12 hours long and that this 'rule' cannot be broken except under 'exceptional circumstances'. The reporter is concerned that low staff levels means that the 'rule' will be broken more often. Alternatively, no Signallers were willing to work because they thought it to be unsafe, the panel would have to be closed, which could not occur because of operational reasons. With Signallers potentially working back-to-back shifts, the reporter is concerned about low concentration levels which could result in panels being worked dangerously.
Also, refresher training is supposed to be provided for those who haven't worked certain panels within the past six months. However, the reporter doesn't believe Signallers working panels at London Bridge after a period of absence have received this training.
The reporter seeks clarification from Network Rail as follows:
Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for bringing their concerns to our attention.
What is an 'exceptional circumstance'?
Network Rail provides guidance over what may be determined as an 'exceptional circumstance' and this is contained within our suite of operational standards known as the Operations Manual. The procedure for controlling working hours is; 2-02 Control of Excessive Working Hours for Staff Undertaking Safety Critical Work. This procedure applies:
The existence of long standing job vacancies or planned organisational changes that affect the number of safety critical workers would not be considered as a suitable reason for extending hours, except when exceptional circumstances apply.
Has there been any change to the procedural workings of
There has been no change to the procedural workings of these guidelines, and exceedences to working hours are only applied within the scope of exceptional circumstances. These are reviewed on a four-weekly basis. Since April 2010 there have only been three exceedences authorised at London Bridge. These have been reviewed in relation to the exceptional circumstances stated above and found to be valid.
How do the guidelines apply if there have been staffing
As stated within the definition of exceptional circumstances, an exceedence is not permitted in relation to a long standing job vacancy. Exceedences to working hours have only been permitted due to short term sickness or unforseen shortage of staff. Although it has not affected recent working hour exceedences, there are currently two vacancies at London Bridge but this is not deemed excessive at a large signalling centre. It is recognised however that the recruitment process has been less than optimal. The issues causing the identified delay in recruitment have been dealt with and staff have now been recruited to the aforementioned vacancies.
Is it mandatory for refresher training to be provided after
six months of absence from a signal box? If so, could Network Rail
look into making sure that this is provided for all staff on duty
at London Bridge?
Although it is not mandatory for refresher training to be provided after six months, it is recognised within Network Rail as good practice, and so is applied within London Bridge signalling centre. There have been two occasions of individuals returning to work during 2010 after a six month period of absence, and a full return to work interview supported by refresher training was provided.