Could you help make depots safer and healthier by reporting your concerns? What is being reported at the moment, and what changes are happening in rail depots? We explore the situation with depot safety.

Doncaster maintenance depot

Above: A depot in Doncaster © Clare Louise Jackson/Shutterstock

Depots keep the rail network running smoothly and safely. If you work out of a depot or visit them for work, you’ll know there can be potential hazards – especially where rolling stock or road vehicles are moving around.

Technology and processes are always changing, aiming to control or remove risks. But introducing new ways of working takes time. During this time, existing issues may remain – and sometimes new risks arise.

According to the rail industry’s Depot Working Group, which tracks accidents, the number of accidents in depots has remained static over 10 years. However, someone loses their life roughly every two-and-a-half years. The group says engineering supervisors and personnel, and train cleaning and presentation staff are most affected. The group also identified incidents on walkways, electrocution and the need for increased standardisation of depots across rail companies as key issues.

Everyone knows you can report hazards and other safety issues through your line manager and other internal channels. Another way you can report health, safety and wellbeing risks you notice (but not real-time issues or incidents) is CIRAS’ confidential reporting service, which protects your identity so that no one knows who you are.

We listen to your concerns to fully understand them and the potential consequences. We then pass them to the relevant company – confidentially in a report – and share the company’s written response with you so you know what’s happened because you spoke up.

We also aggregate data – anonymously from concerns raised through our reporting service – to help identify trends and issues in health, safety and wellbeing. Covid-19 led to a large increase in depot concerns raised with CIRAS in 2020/21. But in the past four years, concerns about depots have been mostly about rules and procedures, exposure to hazardous substances, issues with equipment, and fatigue.

Since April 2022, depot issues raised through CIRAS mostly focus on rules and procedure: for example, late notices not being posted on time or at all, a lack of process to ensure briefings are carried out, people being allocated multiple roles, which has led to unsafe practices, and concerns about safety processes not being followed.

There is an increasing share of fatigue concerns – including about the design of rosters (and emergency rosters) and understaffing, meaning that accidents could go unnoticed – compared with other concerns about depots.

Train being serviced in a depot

Since 2019, depot concerns about hazardous substances have mainly been about exposure to by-products of work, including dust when sanding or sewage from waste tanks. Linked to this, equipment concerns have focused on equipment that should remove or reduce exposure to hazardous substances not working. Derailers’ safety and effectiveness have also been questioned.

Poorly designed or unlit walking routes have been highlighted, as well as deteriorating working conditions, high workload and work pressure, and the risk of disease from vermin on site. Some CIRAS reports, meanwhile, have mentioned issues with welfare and toilet facilities, including having no facilities or no running water.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Could you speak up to help make your workplace safer and healthier – either through internal channels or in confidence through CIRAS?

Raise a concern using CIRAS

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This article was originally published in Rail Safety and Standards Board's Right Track magazine, issue number 42.

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