Winter weather adds new health and safety challenges into the mix, as our Safety Spot column for Railnews January 2021 explains.

You can read the article below.

At all times of year, keeping colleagues, passengers and yourself safe can seem a lot to think about and remember.  But winter comes with extra hazards to watch out for and try to prevent.

Weather is the main factor: the cold, fog, wind, heavy rain and possible snow and ice can slow down operations and make work more hazardous.  On an individual level, staying warm and dry can be a challenge, and you may need different PPE.

Shorter days could mean working or driving in the dark, or pressure to fit more work into fewer hours.  Fatigue could set in and driving become more dangerous, both as a result of fatigue and external issues such as reduced visibility or conditions making it harder to control the vehicle.

Companies are aware of seasonal risks to health and safety and do their best to mitigate them.  There are lots of examples from our members, including using video calls to conduct a site briefing the day before, reducing the need for early starts in the dark; on-site wind shelters; drying rooms for wet PPE; winter driving packs containing water, hand warmers, a hi-vis vest, wind-up torch and scraper; briefings on winter vehicle readiness, and dual-SIM work phones to provide extra signal coverage when driving alone.

Lone driving has its own risks.  Fatigue can be greater without a second driver or the stimulation of company, and if there is an incident the driver could be isolated. 

For railway operations, preparation for winter starts taking place even before the colder months so that trains can run safely in all weathers.  In stations, the focus on slips, trips and falls can intensify, with gritting and de-icing supplies provided.

Whatever part of the railway you work on, and whatever your role, you will already be taking more precautions when temperatures drop.  But if you see any winter safety issues that are not being addressed effectively, it is worth speaking up and reporting them.

Sometimes people prefer to report their concerns confidentially.  You can do so using the confidential reporting service provided by CIRAS, which passes the concern to the appropriate company and then shares the company's response with the person reporting it, closing the feedback loop.  The reporter can also share their own feedback on the company's response with them confidentially through CIRAS.

These examples of seasonal concerns reported to CIRAS show that speaking up can lead to action:

Slippery walkway

A new walkway to a signal box was built once someone raised a concern with CIRAS over the slippery, uneven conditions of the existing route.  They had been concerned that colleagues could fall on to the track from the walkway.

CCTV visibility

CCTV cameras at a level crossing were adjusted to provide better visibility following a concern raised with CIRAS.  The person reporting it had explained that the image quality was acceptable when it was dry and cloudy, but not at night or in sun or rain, which made it difficult to confirm if the crossing was clear and safe for trains.

Mud cleared from yard

Someone who reported mud being churned up at a railway yard was concerned it could be dangerous for slips, trips and falls and that machines could topple over in the mud.  They said shunters had to climb over vegetation and debris to walk around trains.  In response to these concerns, raised through CIRAS, the companies at the yard agreed to carry out additional site safety checks in winter, provided suitable footwear, removed the vegetation and debris and arranged for an excavator to remove mud and slurry.

And finally, when you identify a health, safety or wellbeing issue at work, including on a site run by another company, you can speak up using confidential reporting for peace of mind, and results.  That's one less problem to think about this winter.

Raise a concern

Report hotline: 0800 4 101 101

Report textline: 07507 285 887