The rail industry needs more visible leadership

The managing director of Bridgeway Consulting, Pino DeRosa, gives his thoughts on some of the key issues that challenge rail safety standards.

Q: Visible and committed leadership is essential if rail safety is to improve.

A: I agree, we can all say many things about what we expect from our people but actions speak louder than words.

Visible leadership sends a strong message to the members of the organisation. It also serves to educate the senior management team so they better understand what they are asking their people to do on a day-to-day basis.

Committed leadership means following through on the observations and conversations with frontline staff, and once again actions speak louder than words and failing to follow up committed actions and provide feedback will result in a lack of trust between senior management and frontline staff.

Communication by e-mail and mobile phone can never be as effective as face to face.

Electronic communication needs to form part of blended methods of maintaining and enhancing staff engagement. The methods by which many communicate is changing at a fast pace so where possible, potential benefits should in my opinion be exploited whenever possible and practicable.

A policy step change is needed away from “measure it to manage it” to a co-operative listening management style that values people and fosters a better safety culture.

I have long believed that KPIs whilst well intended drive behaviours that can be counter productive. Key measures are important but they can undermine many other aspects that while somewhat soft can make a big difference to the way a team or company performs. An open relationship with a strong dialogue between senior management and the boots on ballast workforce should be the aim.

The word “Zero” has been overused in safety management jargon and is no longer respected

We all agree that we don’t want to be harming any of our staff, industry colleagues, or members of the public. A target of zero is therefore totally appropriate in principle. However, the “zero” campaigns have been around some time now and as an industry we are not there yet. Just wanting it to happen without changing what we do won’t work. Target Zero forms part of Bridgeway’s own safety campaign. If I thought it was preventing us from moving forward, I would have no hesitation in changing it.

Groups who regularly work together can outperform others in both safety and productivity

Absolutely, this is true at a work and sporting level. The importance is in understanding what the full scope of the work is, be it physical, technical or environmental, define clearly what good will look like assemble the right team, train them, provide a two way channel for communication and feedback.

The most senior managers still spend too little time walking the job on the front line and listening to the workforce. Agreed, the better we understand our people and what we ask them to do every day the greater our ability to effect positive changes in our business and the industry.

A respected and independent accident, incident and concern reporting system is essential for the safety culture of the rail industry.

A mature, well-balanced, and open business that has fostered trust and the respect of its workforce and is willing to be self critical when necessary from the top down does not need “independent” confidentiality as part of its systems. Organisations that don’t have or want that level of openness may be not evolve positively without the existence of independent reporting systems.

Railway Rule Books should no longer be regarded as working documents for front line staff

Over recent years the railway rulebook has evolved from being a prescriptive set of onerous and complicated documents into what are high level instruction and guidance for specific roles. In order to make the current rulebook work more effectively, companies need to support the current rules with additional information on how to undertake specific roles. The rulebook also needs to be supported by the industry Life Saving Rules, Key Point Cards and Non- technical skills(behaviours, culture and attitudes).

The rulebook modules are needed by frontline staff but companies should be willing to provide further information, coaching and training to their staff on how to do their work safely. On a final note the rail industry has made significant steps to reduce and clarify complicated rules but we really to further engage with frontline staff in order to provide information and rule book modules that they will want to use.

Pino DeRosa will be speaking at the Rail Safety Summit on April 28. For more information visit the website.