In our May 2020 Railnews Safety Spot, we shared the sort of Covid-19 concerns people were raising with us and what members were doing to take action.

We also highlighted the importance of not losing sight of other concerns.

You can read the article below.

Virus-related concerns mean more people are contacting CIRAS, but don't lose sight of other health, safety and wellbeing issues too.

These are difficult and unpredictable times, and the spread of the Covid-19 virus worldwide has brought health, safety and wellbeing into sharp focus.  More people have contacted CIRAS in March and April than during the same period in the previous three years.

CIRAS listens to staff who are concerned about health, safety and wellbeing issues and want to use a confidential, independent service.  Details of concerns are then passed on to employers confidentially so they can use the information to reduce risk.

From fatigue, distraction and physical and mental health concerns to site- or industry-specific concerns about rules, procedures and working practices, there are often common themes among the issues people raise.

When you contact CIRAS you know that the right people to take action at your workplace will hear your concerns – whether they are from your company or the company in charge of the work site.  You may have tried internal reporting channels, may not be aware of them, or may just feel uncomfortable putting your name to a report.  There are lots of reasons why people choose to contact CIRAS.

Being heard above the noise

CIRAS reports help employers identify what is not working at their company as expected, or where more could be done.  They also shine a light on information and guidance not reaching the right people.

Importantly, whoever is reporting has a chance to make suggestions confidentially so they are given a fair hearing.  Knowing that you will be listened to and receive a response makes a difference when the situation is unsettling, shifting constantly.

The concerns raised with CIRAS recently focus on preventing Covid-19 from spreading in the workplace.  Employers are using this information to fine-tune their approach, to see how it is working in practice, and to make improvements to benefit the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff.

Where guidance is not specific, companies are coming up with individual solutions, and confidential reports show where they may need to rethink decisions.  People have contacted CIRAS in disagreement with employers' interpretations of when staff must go into work rather than do their job from home.  Others are concerned about some activities continuing, because they believe they could be postponed to help with social distancing.

CIRAS has also heard from those worried that colleagues who they think show symptoms of Covid-19, or should be self-isolating, are coming into work.

Effective social distancing is a priority for many people who contact us, not only by maintaining a two-metre distance at work or when travelling, but also through rearranging shifts and staff rosters so fewer people are in a space at any time.

Some employers have responded to the crisis by changing their travel arrangements, with staff allowed to use their own vehicles, extra vehicles being hired so there are fewer staff in each one, or screens installed within vehicles to separate their occupants.  Changes to shifts are also allowing staff to travel to work at quieter times.

Many CIRAS member companies have replanned rosters and staggered staff breaks.  This creates more time for handwashing and reduces the number of people in mess rooms at any time.  New limits on how many people can be in a mess room and reorganising shared spaces help to emphasise social distancing.

Reporters to CIRAS have also expressed fears about transmitting or catching Covid-19 through contact with infected surfaces.  This ranges from concerns about how well and how often locations are cleaned – especially where the public travel or in areas heavily used by staff – through to the availability of handwash and the handling of cash or other items from the public.

To help, CIRAS member companies have stepped up their cleaning – either in frequency, with new products being used for extra protection against viruses, or with cleaning processes validated or changed to align with new shift patterns.  At least one member has introduced rapid-response cleaning when an individual has displayed symptoms.

Having the right PPE in public-facing roles or in public areas is another concern and companies are addressing this through risk assessments to identify where staff need protective clothing and where processes need to change, such as introducing a contactless signing-in procedure.

Staying alert

Not every concern raised with us recently is about Covid-19, and whatever you want to report, it will help employers to keep sight of issues and hazards that might otherwise slip under the radar.  Reports are a crucial piece of the health and safety puzzle.  During times of change and crisis, confidential reports are especially important, so get in touch with CIRAS and make sure you are heard.

You can read more about these examples and others in our Frontline Matters newsletter and on our case studies page.