We asked Kevin Ogilvie-White, CIRAS rep and lead safety manager at train operator Great Western Railway, to share his experience of CIRAS over the years.

Kevin manages a team of five responsible for: reviewing and conducting risk assessments; investigating accidents; writing and updating safety management procedures; chairing Great Western Railway’s (GWR) safety committees, and submitting reports to GWR’s safety improvement groups.

rep profile headshot

How long have you been the CIRAS rep?

I’ve been with GWR for 20 years, and this is my third stint as CIRAS rep.  The first time was for three years after I joined the GWR safety team as regional safety advisor in 2010.  When the team was restructured, the lead safety advisor assumed the responsibilities of CIRAS rep, and my second time was covering that role for sickness absence.  Most recently, I became CIRAS rep once more as the lead safety manager at GWR.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that CIRAS has engaged more with me as rep.  For example, I appreciate the phone calls to tell me that a new CIRAS report is on its way to me, before it lands in my inbox, and now CIRAS also calls me to follow up once I’ve sent the response to them.

How has reporting culture changed over your 20 years at GWR?

We know frontline staff can be reluctant to report health and safety issues, potentially as they perceive a divide between them and their management, which can be difficult to overcome.  It’s a tricky balance – staff don’t want their managers sitting with them in restrooms, getting involved in their daily conversations, but they do want to see them act when concerns are raised.  If they see no action when they speak up, they’ll think their managers aren’t taking their concerns seriously.  We recognise this and we’ve worked to change the reporting culture over the years, by making it easier for people to speak up and ensuring they get feedback when they do.

We’ve instilled a speak up culture by empowering our people to challenge unsafe working, without any fear of repercussions.  GWR’s SafeStop procedure is there to enable staff to stop work if they feel a job or task is unsafe.  Initially we called it Refusal to Work, but over time learned that this didn’t encourage a lot of use.  So we changed it to SafeStop and introduced two categories:

  • CAT A – stop work, investigate, escalate.
  • CAT B – stop work, have a conversation, if a safe way to proceed is agreed, continue working.

After that, more colleagues used the procedure.  Use increased during Covid-19 but is now returning to normal levels.

Where does CIRAS ‘fit’ at GWR?

CIRAS plays an important role at GWR.  Our staff see CIRAS as a point of contact they can rely on to seek action and get a response, and in fact we’ve seen a rise in colleagues going directly to CIRAS.  We’d like to see the same level of confidence in our internal reporting options, as we’d always prefer people to come to us first if possible.  We have put lots of reporting routes in place for our staff: a Health and Safety Committee, local health and safety reps, Safe Stop and our Safety Improvement Groups and their own confidential reporting hotline alongside CIRAS.

The Safety Improvement Groups cover four areas: drivers, on train, engineering and stations.  These groups work to ensure we avoid repeating accidents, review our progress in their area and look for improvements.

How have you integrated CIRAS and how do you tell people about it?

CIRAS is quite well embedded across GWR and has a good reputation.  We put CIRAS information on all our health and safety notice boards, it’s part of our local induction process and we feature it on our employee portal.  CIRAS forms part of our health and safety engagement workshops and all our health and safety reps attend these.  It’s part of our regular cycle of safety and business briefings as well, and we make sure all our safety managers know where to access all relevant information.

How do you approach a CIRAS report?

We take CIRAS reports very seriously – each could be an opportunity to reduce risk or avoid an incident.  We allocate each report to the person best placed to look into it, and they will undertake a full investigation, looking for how we can use the intelligence to improve health and safety.

As lead safety manager and the CIRAS rep, I review every response, and they are discussed at senior level meetings as part of our whole reporting process.  If we feel the CIRAS report is about a serious issue, we seek sign-off at a more senior level.

(GWR has had 38 reports since January 2019.)

How do you share learning from CIRAS reports?

We share CIRAS reports and our responses with the relevant Safety Improvement Group, and they discuss the outcomes and any lessons.  Both local and regional managers attend these so it’s a good way to share learning across the business.  We rely on attendees to cascade any learning down to their staff.  We’re always looking for new ways to share learning.

Can you share a time when CIRAS helped you improve health and safety?

We had a report a while ago about shunting sleeper services.  As a result of the concerns being raised, cross-function workshops were held and attended by Engineering, Operations, Safety and H&S representatives from RMT, ASLEF and UNITE.  The group concluded that the method of work in use was safe and compliant with the Rule Book but identified areas that needed to be reviewed in the Depot Operating Instruction and Risk assessments – a positive outcome from the report that led to a collaborative approach, engaging with the people who carried out the work and those that write the procedures.