May 2012 in Network Rail and Suppliers
A reporter is concerned that Machine Operators (MOs) are not being effectively mentored at plant hire companies across the industry. It is felt some concerted action is needed to raise safety standards in order to prevent an accident.
The reporter states that once new MOs have received their basic training in the classroom, very little mentoring or close supervision takes place. Though most reputable plant hire companies can produce paperwork to demonstrate mentoring activities take place after basic training, the reporter says the actual mentoring received is not of an acceptable standard.
In the reporter's opinion, MOs who have no railway experience are being rushed through basic training courses to help cover critical engineering work. Once they arrive on site, they are showing a fundamental lack of skill and experience.
Under the Sentinel scheme, an experienced Operator would be expected to provide direct support by being physically present for an inexperienced member of staff. However, experienced Operators are finding themselves under pressure to operate their own machines and then 'sign off' a shift to say a new staff member has shown the required degree of competency. The reporter thinks mentoring should be far more than a 'check box' exercise.
The Sentinel scheme stipulates that new MOs should be mentored on the first three shifts and then assessed after four months. But, for the reporter, this is an exercise that exists in name only and signatures to say this has happened are quite meaningless. Basic mistakes of a safety critical nature are being witnessed too frequently.
The reporter highlights another issue that may also indicate a lack of safety culture. Plant hire companies are not testing safety harnesses every six months as they should. Instead, the tags with dates on them are simply being changed with no actual testing of the harnesses taking place. It is thought very few harnesses have actually been certificated as required.
Could Network Rail NDS Plant, Readypower and Quattro:
Response from Network Rail NDS Plant
Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for bringing their concerns to our attention.
Could Network Rail investigate current mentoring activities and identify any gaps?
Network Rail will be conducting two separate but complementary investigations into these concerns. These investigations will take place through February and March of 2012.
Additionally, Network Rail have written to the holders of plant operating licences to remind them of their responsibilities, which include the appointment of a person responsible for plant activities on site and which requires that this person is physically on site when works are being undertaken.
Could Network Rail organise a safety initiative, perhaps led by Network Rail, to improve the quality of mentoring received by MOs across the industry?
When the results of the investigations and audits have been received, Network Rail will then decide what follow up actions are required.
Could Network Rail reinstate safety checks for harnesses where they have been omitted?
As stated above, safety checks for lifting harnesses fall under the requirements of LOLER. The audits that we have planned will show if there are any breaches in terms of this and will contain the requirement for corrective action to be taken.
Response from Readypower
Mentoring for Machine Operators
Readypower Engineering are also concerned that Machine Operators (MOs) within the industry are not being effectively mentored by some plant hire companies.
We are more than confident that these reports do not relate to Readypower MOs, as we have comprehensive records to demonstrate the mentoring of all our Operators. We employ in-house assessors who carry out all the mentoring and workplace assessments for our MOs employed on a permanent PAYE contract.
It is our belief that those plant hire companies that do not have in-house assessors, and only ever employ agency MOs, are more likely to undertake sub-standard mentoring or no mentoring whatsoever.
Readypower welcomes this report, and hopes that Network Rail will clamp down on those Plant Operator Licence (POL) holders and plant hire companies that are paying lip service to the standards.
At Readypower we employLifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations(LOLER)qualified examiners, and we also employ the services of aLOLERcontractor where clients insist that we outsource the examinations. Our current arrangements require harnesses to receive a thorough examination every six months or replacement should they be damaged.
Awaiting response from Quattro Plant