Information published on 28 July 2015 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 459.

Australia: Helping to develop a culture of rail safety

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“Helping to develop a culture of rail safety”, originally published in Track & Signal July-September 2015, written by John Anderson, Chairman at ACRI (Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation).

Building a culture of safety is vital for all industry but especially for rail, where the costs in life, injuries, time and repairs to infrastructure can be so high. The culture of safety can be just as important as, if not more important than, just the prescriptive safety laws, rules and procedures, as the following story will illustrate.

On 14 May 2014, Train 4413 – a bulk iron ore train – derailed on the Defined Interstate Rail Network (DIRN) between Stewart and Bonnie Vale in Western Australia. Wagons and track were severely damaged. Fortunately, no-one was injured.

Ten months later, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released its very instructive findings.

Track maintenance and inspection was found to be incompliance with engineering requirements

it said – that is, the safety rules and procedures were all fine. But, the bureau said,

The track leading into the derailment site was known to train drivers as an area of rough ride. It was found that the systems in place between the train operator and track maintainer for the reporting of track irregularities (in particular the rough riding of trains) was ineffective and hence the opportunity was lost to check for uncharacteristic track qualities through the derailment site – before such qualities contributed to a derailment.

That finding is a good illustration of the rationale behind the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation’s (ACRI) research into safety culture.

Acknowledging that there are many safety tools and systems currently being used by the Australasian rail industry, this survey is designed to be used in conjunction with existing tools and systems. The survey looks specifically at the safety culture of an organisation and provides information on how attitudes to safety may be either hindering or helping an organisation in achieving its safety goals. The results of the survey are designed to be incorporated into organisation safety activities to assist organisations with optimising their investment, and results, in this important are of rail operations.

That research outlined 10 “platinum rules” for building a culture of safety. One of those was “hear bad news”. It stressed the need to encourage reporting, make reporting simple and easy, listen to and involve the “squeaky wheels” and reward reporting.

In the above example, both the track maintainer and train operator have since developed enhanced procedures for reporting track irregularities and have jointly committed, through the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), to ongoing industry support and research into the cause of this type of derailment.

So, in the interests of continually improving safety by improving safety culture in organisations, ACRI and RISSB have signed an agreement licensing RISSB to disseminate the results of a major piece of research on safety culture throughout the industry.

The survey is underpinned by research that looked at safety and organisational culture among rail operators in Australia and in other Australian industries to build a model of good practice organisational culture for workplace health and safety for the industry. The research concentrated on three Australian rail operators: one passenger, one freight, and one heavy haul and involved extensive qualitative surveying of 229 participants.

The model is based on the experience of real and diverse organisations in the industry. It can be used immediately as a tool for organisation self-reflection. It can be used to identify and affirm current good practice. Most importantly, it provides a framework for action to improve workplace health and safety performance in the Australasian rail industry.

Among other things, it stresses the need for good communication to encourage reporting and not to allow bad practice to fester.

The licensing agreement will enable RISSB to provide the research to its fee-paying members in Australia and New Zealand. This is a major step for rail safety. It will help rail operators in Australia and New Zealand to operate rail networks in the safest manner possible.

ACRI has also signed an agreement with Centre Queensland University (CQU) to help organisations in the industry interpret the results of the survey. CQU was the major contributor to the original research and is ideally placed to ensure the benefits of the work can be fully realised by the sector.

The research was undertaken by the Co-operative Research Centre for Rail Innovation (CRC). Upon its creation in 2014 ACRI’s program included the development of legacy activities from the CRC when it ceased operations. The survey was one of those legacy activities.

ACRI also has an agreement with the US firm Qualtrics, which specialises in online survey software. This will enable organisations to use the survey data to help develop that all-important culture of safety.

(Source: ACRI)