November 2012 in Network Rail and Suppliers
A reporter is concerned by the general lack of experience shown by Controllers of Site Safety (COSSs) in the London area. It is believed to be a widespread problem which needs addressing at an industry level.
The main concern is that many Track Workers are 'fast-tracked' and become COSSs in a relatively short space of time. Many become COSSs after six or seven months supported by only a few days of basic track safety training.
The reporter believes that two years' experience as a Track Worker before becoming a COSS is a more appropriate standard to adhere to. A large proportion of COSSs are felt to lack the experience to carry out work safely, especially given their responsibility to provide leadership to others.
The reporter suggests that a coordinated industry response is required involving Network Rail and the labour agencies.
For Network Rail:
For the agencies:
Response from Sky Blue
In response to this report regarding the competence of Controllers of Site Safety (COSSs) in the London area, SkyBlue are looking to implement the following controls.
Firstly, all new candidates for COSS training will undergo a strict selection process, including personality profiling. We would not anticipate that a candidate would undertake this training in the first two years of holding a Personal Track Safety (PTS) certificate, except in exceptional circumstances approved by our senior management team.
Secondly, all new workers recruited holding a COSS competence will undertake an interview session with a qualified member of staff. This is in order to complete an experience portfolio document to ascertain their experience levels and the types of work undertaken.
Thirdly, all existing staff who hold COSS competence, Crane Controllers and Engineering Supervisors, will undertake the same process in the next few months.
We believe that this approach will ensure our staff have the appropriate experience and competence levels, enabling us to allocate the correct competent staff to the appropriate sites. We recognise that clients sometimes expect a COSS to be the equivalent of the Track Chargeman and to be fully competent in the different types of rail work. We reiterate that a COSS is a completely different qualification. SkyBlue and Carillion are starting a 13 week recognised training program for Track Chargemen.
Response from Network Rail
Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for bringing their concerns to our attention.
Can COSSs with only six months' experience meet the required standards?
A person selected for COSS training goes through a mandated pre-selection process with their sponsor/Line Manager to confirm that they are suitable for the training and the role.
Any newly trained COSS will go through a period of four months mentoring. In this time they have to prove to their mentor that they are suitable and competent to carry out the duties before mentoring can be completed. If the mentor can show that the person is not suitable for the role of the COSS then either the competence needs to be suspended if they are not suitable, or the mentorship period extended to allow the COSS to reach the required standard.
There is no proof that a person with two years experience for example is more able to act as a COSS than someone that has six months experience. It depends on the amount of times a person has performed the duties, the circumstances and their demonstrated ability while they have carried out the duties.
Would a coordinated industry response involving Network Rail and labour agencies to raise standards help?
There is currently a Network Rail led project looking at the role of the COSS in consultation with the trades union's labour suppliers. This includes the competence structure for COSS, which will include the gaining, maintaining the competence and the required frequency of performing the duties.
Joint response from Morson International and Morson Wynnwith
Morson would like to thank CIRAS and the reporter for involving us in feedback on this subject.
Firstly, if the training during the initial five days is thorough and fit for purpose, and the mentoring process is correctly adhered to, then the amount of experience is irrelevant. A new fast tracked person should be able to act and respond in the same manner as an experienced COSS. Nearly all accident statistics demonstrate that the real problems are with the COSSs who have been working for a few years, who have become complacent.
Secondly, the support mechanisms in place via the work planning, mentoring and supervision should be sufficient to negate the potential increased risk through the deployment of an inexperienced COSS. Morson proactively mentors new COSSs before allowing them onto the track, in most cases this will be carried out across a week rather than the official one shift. Morson will adopt this mentoring process on new sites and complex areas. This will then be signed off by a competent COSS or Assessor before allowing the new COSS to carry out the role unsupervised.
Thirdly, it is felt that a greater risk is associated with a lack of local knowledge, poor briefings to the COSS and poor Safe System of Work (SSOW) plans. Morson hopes that the above information is sufficient to address the reporters concern. However, in the event that any further information is required we will be happy to discuss the matter further through CIRAS.
Response from McGinley Infrastructure Services
In response to the reporters concerns McGinley would comment as follows.
Since 2001 McGinley have had in place rigid mentoring procedures to control the potential of 'fast tracking' inexperienced workers to the infrastructure; the rules surrounding inexperienced workers are controlled and monitored.
Initially, Personal Track Safety (PTS) card holders are issued with a provisional id card/logbook valid for six months. The recorded information is monitored for safeguarded and open line working experience during this period of mentorship. The worker retains his provisional status for the full six months, after which the candidate is interviewed and the mix of work activity reviewed. If the candidate is successful, provisional status is removed at the NCCA. The candidate is then eligible to be up-skilled to Lookout if deemed suitable.
Following a further six months as a Lookout, and providing they fulfil the criteria and are deemed suitable, the candidate is then put forward for up skilling to COSS level and any associated competencies such as Level Crossing Attendant (LXA), Points Operator, etc.
After two years as a COSS and again if suitable, they are up-skilled to Engineering Supervisor (ES) or Person in Charge of Possession (PICOP).
McGinley have never deviated from this procedure and will not engage any worker who has not followed a similar process with other agencies.