Confidential reporting transfers across the transport and logistics industry to port operations, with cross-sector learning available from shared risks. What makes confidential reporting different from whistleblowing? 

Operational environments share similar challenges, and workforce safety is one of these. Operational staff on the frontline of your port business – quayside, working cargo plant, dealing with ro-ro ferry movements – are dealing with day-to-day issues not unlike those facing workers in the railway industry, for example.

Although ports and the railway work with different modes of transport, both sectors move goods and passengers from A to B, and some ports also handle marine, leisure and fishing facilities. Many operate 24/7, increasing the possibility of health and safety issues. Frontline staff are often best placed to see hazards first hand.

What is the nature of hazards and risks in port operations? According to Port Skills and Safety – Britain's professional port health and safety membership organisation – slips, trips and falls account for the largest percentage of safety incidents that result in people being off work for at least one day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is also a frequent workforce safety issue impacting railway operations.

Other risks shared by the port and railway sectors include: driving and operating vehicles and machinery, including the risk of being trapped, crushed or run over; manual handling and the risk of associated muscular injuries; falling or moving objects, such as cargo being transferred from sea to land side; and working at height and the associated risk of falling.

Woman using walkie-talkie managing cargo port operations

Above: Workforce safety is a challenge for all operational environments. Being a CIRAS member allows your workers to report their health and safety concerns confidentially, so you can hear the voices you would otherwise miss through embarrassment or fear of speaking up, for example.

While there are variations between transport and logistics operations, there is plenty of health and safety learning to be shared. One of the differences between ports and the railway is that the railway has a well-established confidential reporting service. The Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis Service (CIRAS) has been fully embedded in railway operations for many years and is used in the bus and tram sector, but is still relatively new to ports.

Confidential reporting in the rail sector helps to reduce operational risks. Frontline staff of CIRAS member companies can use it to speak out about health, safety and wellbeing issues without colleagues or managers linking the concern to them. This encourages employees to report proactively and means the company (you) can investigate and act on the intelligence. In 2021/22, 80% of CIRAS reports led to at least one action.

What is different about confidential reporting?

Even with a top-performing safety culture, you will not hear about all concerns through internal reporting channels, because not everyone is comfortable reporting safety issues. Research released in May 2020 by Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University, in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, shows that frontline operational staff feel less able or confident to raise concerns than office-based staff, with more barriers and fewer channels.

Research on safety voice and safety silence in 2019* also suggests that less than 50% of people speak up.

Confidential reporting can help to address this because it is inclusive. It offers anonymity, which can remove anxiety around speaking up. We know from our own 2021/22 data that 20% of the people who contacted CIRAS directly, without using internal company channels, did so because of fear of retribution. Almost 50% cited internal culture as the reason, and a third (33%) had no other option because their concerns were for a company that was not their employer.

How is confidential reporting different from whistleblowing?

Confidential reporting is different from whistleblowing. Whistleblowing presumes wrongdoing and exposes illegal, unethical or otherwise wrong actions. In contrast, confidential reporting focuses on safety improvement. This includes revealing hazards that managers have not noticed; highlighting procedures or rules that have good intentions, but are not working in practice and could cause unsafe actions; and alerting companies to fatigue and other personal wellbeing issues that could affect safety performance.

The big difference for staff is that those who report confidentially are guaranteed to have their identity protected. Although there are legal protections for whistleblowers, high-profile examples of people losing jobs and reputation as a result of speaking up can put off many.

Providing a blame-free confidential reporting channel for frontline concerns could help to raise morale, especially in uncertain and isolating times such as recent years, and the 360-degree feedback that CIRAS offers means frontline staff have a chance to follow up on the company response.

As companies worldwide deal with the fallout of Covid-19, it has never been more apparent that prevention is better than cure. The best way to minimise the loss associated with health and safety incidents of all severities is to prevent them in the first place.

Increasingly, information and data are the bedrock of risk management and business decisions. Confidential reporting provides an additional source of safety intelligence that has the potential to identify risks that might otherwise be missed and so predict and prevent incidents, revealing cross-sector and industry-wide issues and learning.

Richard Steele, chief executive of Port Skills and Safety**, says, 'We are always looking to improve health and safety in ports and that means making it as easy as possible for everyone to be proactive safety champions.

'UK ports work hard to deliver employee health and safety inclusion and engagement. Just some of the actions that you will see in ports include visible leadership, employee representative forums, safety conversations, spot-it schemes and workforce project groups. Mechanisms such as confidential reporting can complement and support ports' successes in building ever more effective health and safety cultures.'

Now is the time for companies to look beyond traditional practices and reach out across sectors, working together to build safer workplaces.

For more information on joining CIRAS, contact our business development manager Marc Spillman on 07876 578981 or email

*Noort, M. C., Reader, T. W., & Gillespie, A. (2019)
**The original version of this article featured in the January 2021 issue of CILT Focus magazine

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Be confident about workplace safety with confidential reporting

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