The rail industry is no stranger to risk assessments, but with a new virus to consider – and knowledge and advice about it changing daily – some rail businesses have looked to specialists for a helping hand. Anna Ince, chief executive officer of CIRAS member Resonate, explains how RSSB’s risk assessment support service helped the company to carry out essential work earlier in the year, and what was involved.

Signalling control and traffic management is our main area of work. During the pandemic, we had to commission a new control system at Upminster signalling centre as part of a renewals programme of essential works that run the railway safely. This is a highly sensitive operational environment. During the five-hour possession period, the work area proximity to signalling staff and between our engineers meant that it would not be possible to adhere to two-metre social distancing rules.

We had done everything that we could do away from site, and everything we needed to do in the equipment room, but we needed to go into the very secure and sensitive signalling control floor.

Resonate turned to RSSB because we were not certain what best practice was. We completed the risk assessment and we met with the RSSB team virtually to go through our thoughts and get their input.

They gave us two types of advice.

  1. Specific risk control comments (for that particular job), for example:
  • Have signalling staff been told not to enter the work area beyond sheeting?
  • Who is wiping down the barrier sheeting and how often?
  • Will tools be shared? Can this be avoided/minimised?
  • What will employees do when they need to go on break or use toilet facilities outside planned times?

There were over 20 improvements on top of what we had considered already. We had thought about some of the more obvious things – how we clean and how we move staff around for breaks – but not about the protocols for handling unexpected things on the night.

We also worked through the details and thought about whether we had really worked with the staff who would be there on the night, in that environment, to understand fully what the job would need.

  1. Risk assessment documentation/process, for example:
  • How will staff be consulted on the risk assessment and their positions during the work?
  • How are the risk assessment and control measures being communicated to all staff and is that being recorded?
  • How will the control measures be monitored for compliance and effectiveness?

We ended up with a detailed risk assessment that gave the confidence to Network Rail that we could work on their signalling floor, and importantly gave confidence to the unions and staff members. Our staff felt valued, prepared and confident.

RSSB contacted us immediately after we did this work to ask what went well and what didn’t. Together we made even more improvements, which again went through the full agreement of Network Rail and the trades unions and the staff working on the night.

To find out more about Resonate’s experience, contact Chris Fozard on More about RSSB’s member-only service.