Nobody goes to work to be subjected to abuse, yet sadly it’s a part of everyday life for many transport workers. In research by RSSB in 2018, over half saw it as part of the job, and relatively few reported it. Dealing with abusive behaviour can have a significant impact on staff welfare, leading to stressanxiety and lost working time. Grand Central Railways Ltd has established a project to explore the extent to which this is a problem for their train crews and put measures in place to protect their welfare.

In 2018, Grand Central began work on a new health and wellbeing strategy, with a view to protecting and promoting the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff. There was some anecdotal evidence suggesting that staff might be avoiding certain shifts - typically services from London on weekend evenings.

Head of Safety Operations Roy Hallett suspected this could be due to public behaviour making these shifts particularly challenging for train crew and unpleasant for customers. Even though Grand Central implemented a zero-tolerance policy to anti-social behaviour in 2017, staff weren’t reporting minor issue such as verbal abuse. It was seen as ‘part of the job’, so Grand Central didn’t have the hard evidence they needed to help them tackle the problem.  

They decided to set up a project to: identify the extent of the problem; explore ways to reduce undesirable conduct; empower staff to recognise the effects of abusive behaviour and learn how to look after themselves and each other; and encourage staff to report workplace abuse. 

What did Grand Central do? 

Grand Central decided to run their own survey of frontline staff. They found that over half experienced workplace abuse regularly, and a third reported this caused them anxiety. Only 40% always or mostly reported the problem, and 69% didn’t know what support was available. 

Having established there was a problem, Grand Central pulled together a working group including representatives from both safety and HR teams and, critically, several members of train crew who had volunteered as ‘wellbeing champions’. They also invited CIRAS to participate, in order to tap into intelligence on relevant reports and any good practice from across the CIRAS member base. For example, CIRAS had worked with Abellio Buses on a pilot project introducing mindfulness to bus drivers which had seen good results, and Grand Central were keen to learn from that.     

The working group co-developed a one-day interactive course with a primary emphasis on self-care, comprising four modules:

  • Introducing mental health – spotting the signs
  • Workplace abuse – how to recognise and report it
  • Helping others - the ‘RAILS’ approach
  • Dealing with stress – self care 

This was supported by a suite of videos which Grand Central shot themselves, involving their own staff and members of British Transport Police (BTP) and CIRAS, covering: the law and your rights; support at Grand Central; and the role of mindfulness. The course content was evaluated by the RSSB’s Clinical Psychologist, Dr Michelle O’Sullivan. For more details on the course content itself, including the ‘RAILS approach (Remain calm, Approach, Inquire, Listen, Support), see article in Frontline Matters.    

Initially, the course was ‘road tested’ on senior managers to gain their buy in, and the programme is now being rolled out across Grand Central’s staff.

Alongside this work, Grand Central makes 'body worn' cameras available for senior conductors to wear on a voluntary basis. This not only captures anti social behaviour but provides train crew with a safe working environment and customers with a level of reassurance and a positive travel experience.

What challenges did Grand Central face – and how did they solve them? 

A key challenge was getting the right people together in the working group. Grand Central was particularly keen that train crews were directly involved in developing course content. Planning working group meetings around staff shifts enabled the right people to attend and contribute. Getting senior management buy in was also critical, and the executive team were kept informed and fully endorsed the project from the start. In practical terms, releasing frontline staff to attend the training can be challenging. Grand Central addressed this by recruiting ‘wellbeing champions’ from amongst frontline staff and inviting CIRAS to deliver a ‘train the trainer’ session for them on how to deliver the course to their peers. This allowed Grand Central to set up a programme of sessions which will, over a period of several months, enable every member of staff to attend.  

What’s next? 

The plan is to run a survey six months after the training is complete, to see how it’s benefited staff and whether it has affected reporting behaviour. Feedback on the sessions run to date has been very positive. Here are some comments from course participants:

  • “The advice on how to talk to those who are having a hard time was most interesting and useful.
  • “Group discussions were good - helped to hear other people’s thoughts and experiences.”
  • “Great that the wellbeing champion delivered the course as she gives real examples of how frontline experiences can affect mental health.” 

To find out more about the Grand Central’s work in this area, contact Roy Hallett, Head of Safety Operations, at