We invited the CIRAS rep at one of our freight members to share his views on freight risk and reporting culture, and the role that CIRAS plays.

person rep  

Above: Matthew Noblett.

Recently, we have seen a growth in reports going to freight operating companies (FOC), as they embrace confidential reporting and adopt the CIRAS app.

How long have you been at Freightliner, and what do you do there?

I’ve been safety and sustainability lead at Freightliner for the last 18 months. I lead a small team managing all data, reporting and safety and sustainability programmes across the UK group, and for some of the group’s businesses in Rotterdam, Poland, and Germany. Before that, I worked for Siemens Mobility Limited as health, safety, environment and wellbeing advisor covering the TransPennine Express contract, maintaining, servicing, and upgrading its Class 185 fleet.

Do you think health and safety risks are different in rail freight?

Yes and no. Many of the risks for drivers out on the operational railways are similar – such as fatigue, risk of SPADS, wrong routing and so on. However, we do have many engineering and train preparation staff, working in a unique environment. At Freightliner, our ground staff and multiskilled operatives (MSOs) work in terminals with a lot of HGV traffic, rail movements and container movements.

In addition, freight trains are long and heavy and can be very quiet when they move. As the driver in the locomotive can be a great distance from the rear of the train, we manage risk where staff may not hear the train moving while working in the area.

What do you think is the hottest topic in freight health and safety right now?

Fatigue is a challenge – and not just in freight, but in the wider industry. It’s not a new problem in the industry, and there has been a lot of hard work to address it. It’s just a tough nut to crack. I don’t think it’s a cultural issue here – our people know that they can and should flag if they are fatigued, so that a decision can be made about whether to relieve them.

But it is a real challenge tracking hours worked accurately across all the job grades, such as engineers, drivers, and ground staff. Relatively speaking, it’s easier to track drivers as they book in via Control, so if they are going to exceed their hours, we know and can manage the situation. Engineers don’t book on in the same way, which creates a different challenge. We’re working on ways to get ahead of this and improve things.

What benefits do you hope to get out of your CIRAS membership?

CIRAS can help us get to the bottom of issues that might not surface through our other channels. Take fatigue – if there were concerns about our company culture in relation to fatigue, we’d want to know, but recognise these could be difficult to raise. If someone was worried about how Freightliner managed fatigue, and felt reluctant to come forward, CIRAS would be there for them.

This ability to come forward in confidence is fundamental, as it ensures there’s always a way for people to tell us what’s worrying them – even if they don’t feel they can use our other channels. We don’t want anyone to be sitting there with a concern and not raising it – whatever their reasons.

We also welcome the chance to learn from how others across the industry have addressed health and safety concerns. We can see other people’s reports and responses, and if anyone has had similar issues, we can see how they have addressed them. It’s great shared learning.

You’re the first FOC to launch the CIRAS app – what do you think of it?

I think it’s the simplicity of the CIRAS reporting app that makes it so useful. Our workforce is diverse – some have top notch IT skills, others not so much. Anyone can use the app easily. That in itself can break down some of the barriers to reporting. Many of our staff have some kind of company device, so they can download the app – it’s really accessible. Then, if they see something they want to report, they can just fire it over there and then.

What do you think is the biggest barrier to people reporting health and safety risks?

For me, it’s a practical one – IT proficiency is so varied amongst our staff, and many reporting options rely on some form of technology. Our reporting channels, such as Work Wallet and the CIRAS app, are intentionally straightforward, but even so, we know people can feel easily overwhelmed.

Another big one is hazard blindness. It’s not that people don’t want to report, it’s just that they’ve been doing something for so long, they don’t see it as an issue anymore. That’s why new staff can be so important in spotting risks, as they don’t have that blindness. Some folk are OK with just saying what’s on their mind, but others may feel deterred as they try to fit in with their new colleagues. That’s another scenario where CIRAS could help.

Are there any things you think go unreported? If so, what?

The minor things – the slips, trips and falls, and minor cuts. Overgrown vegetation in railways sidings. People don’t necessarily see these things as issues because they are so small. It’s not worth the hassle of reporting them. But we encourage people to come forward and report their concerns and incidents, however small.

Without the reports, we don’t have the data and can’t look at the issues within a wider context. Even if it’s small, it could be happening with unacceptable frequency or could, in combination with other factors, lead to a much bigger risk that needs looked at.

Find out more

Worn out? Dead tired? Fatigue risk and prevention

Changes to Network Rail's fatigue standard

Shared good practice

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