Analysing our top-level annual data set for 2019/20 reveals positive indicators to build on. An increase in the number of CIRAS reports processed, for the third year running, suggests a growing awareness and understanding of the confidential service among those reporting, as well as a willingness to take safety seriously.

See Overview of confidential reports 1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020 here.

Safety culture 

We collect data during interviews with those who have raised concerns, as part of the reporting process, by asking a few questions about the safety culture where they work[1]. A high proportion of those we interviewed expressed a sense of a positive safety culture in their company, with clarity on what they can report and the confidence to report close calls, unsafe acts and near misses. Most said they receive safety briefings and that safety reporting is encouraged in their workplace. 

The data also hints at possible challenges, with low and falling percentages of reporters who believe that managers acknowledge staff who make reports and take reports seriously themselves.  

It is important to note the limitations of this high-level data: it is from a different group of people each year, with sectors in varying proportions. At the same time, it provides food for thought from primary research and its confidentiality leads to honest opinions that can help to shape a safer culture for a stronger business, with employees that feel recognised and heard.  

Reasons for speaking to CIRAS 

An overwhelming majority of those raising concerns said they were coming to CIRAS after trying internal company reporting channels first, and among these the main reason was dissatisfaction with the outcome. This may suggest that a deeper dive into employee expectations and understanding of the internal reporting process would be fruitful to developing company safety culture. On another level, what more could your company do to help people feel acknowledged and that their contributions to a safer, healthier workplace are valued? Are processes working as intended or would a refresh help? 

Third-party reporting is also notable in the data, at about a fifth of the total. This is where staff report an issue to be addressed by an organisation that is not their employer. Over the past couple of years, we have engaged with frontline staff to emphasise this as an important way to raise industry safety levels, particularly in the railway supply chain – and continue to do so. The increase in CIRAS reports from supply chain companies possibly reflects this. 

Sector overview 

Train operating companies (TOC) have consistently received the most CIRAS reports annually over the last three years, at almost 40 per cent of the total. Deeper analysis at sector level would be needed to tease out potential reasons, but it could indicate a maturity in the sector’s safety awareness and a confidence in the confidential reporting process.  

Likewise, the rising number of bus and coach reports is the likely result of CIRAS entering this sector in 2016. The past year has also seen a large national bus operator join CIRAS to enhance its safety and wellbeing offering, and this has led to more reports as employees make use of this new service. 

High-level themes 

While bearing in mind that the data set varies – this year with more bus and coach reports – it is useful to consider why people have raised a concern with CIRAS over the past year and how this compares with previous years. It can indicate areas of concern where vigilance may be needed and help to inform the planning of risk assessments or safety reviews. It can also indicate differences in the types of concern that staff feel they are unable to raise openly, raising questions about changing safety culture or reporting systems. Multiple themes can be recorded for a CIRAS report because concerns often feature more than one issue or potential outcome.  

Equipment has featured often for the last few years but has now risen to overtake rules and procedure as the most cited theme. Equipment concerns include faulty equipment, lack of or inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and software and mechanical faults. One source of this increase is from bus reports as most of these relate to equipment issues such as broken heating, air conditioning, uncomfortable driver seats or brake faults. 

This year we have heard almost double the number of concerns relating to health and wellbeing than last year. Around half of this increase is from recent concerns relating to COVID-19, but even without these, this is a growing theme. This could be because those raising concerns are more aware of how issues such as equipment and fatigue can impact on their health and wellbeing. On a related topic, hazardous substance concerns have almost tripled in three years, indicating an issue to consider in more depth. 

Concerns raised about training and briefing have almost halved since last year but are slightly up on 2017/18. This will be a topic to keep an eye on in 2020/21 to understand what drives the variations in report numbers.  

Although assault is mentioned in CIRAS reports this year twice as many times as in 2018/19, it is now at the same level as in 2017/18. Of course, even one staff member feeling the need to report fear of assault is too many, and we are aware of many initiatives that have been taken to support staff and reduce this risk. Again, this will be one to keep an eye on. 

While deeper analysis will uncover more insight, this overview should help to build your understanding of people’s concerns and reasons for contacting CIRAS and allow you to compare this with your own company’s findings on health, safety and wellbeing. We will be sharing further insights from the data with members soon. If you have any specific queries you would be interested in us looking into, please get in touch. 

[1] Figures shown are for processed reports only