Taking Safe Decisions (2019) - What's New?

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Every policy, investment or operational decision taken by the GB railway industry impacts safety in some way. Keeping people safe costs money, but that should be embraced as part of a company’s business planning, and safety should be thought of as an integral part of a business, not an add on feature. It is therefore vital that decision-making processes consider safety effectively.

Getting decisions wrong in the rail industry can have a huge impact on safety.  Accidents such as the 1988 Clapham Junction and 1999 Ladbroke Grove rail crashes, and the Santiago de Compostela derailment in 2013, remind us what can go wrong when aspects of safety decision-making and change management fail.  But good decision making is just as important for managing more day to day hazards such as slips, trips and falls.

Background to the Taking Safe Decisions guidance document

The Taking Safe Decisions principles are more widely applicable today than ever before with the introduction of new technologies such as digital rail, and a constantly changing risk environment with rapidly evolving threats on the horizon such as, for example, cyber-security.

The Taking Safe Decisions framework and principles provide guidance on how to take decisions that are grounded in risk-based evidence and protect the safety of rail industry staff, passengers and others, satisfy the law, and respect the interests of stakeholders, whilst remaining commercially sound.

The framework was first produced in 2008 following an extensive programme of research and industry consultation.  It was re-published in 2014.  The August 2019 revision comes after industry consultation during 2018-2019.  It is available here.

The Taking Safe Decisions document has been written for all those involved in activities that maintain and improve safety, including risk practitioners, safety specialists, safety engineers. The document is also relevant to people who don’t necessarily have safety in their job title, such as project engineers, operational managers, senior managers, leadership teams and the board.

What has changed in the 2019 version?

There are no significant changes in the 2019 version of Taking Safe Decisions as the underlying principles remain fundamentally unchanged.  So, if an organisation already has the principles embedded in their processes, they shouldn't have to change anything.

However, with industry consultation, the document has been restructured and simplified for all to read, especially non-safety experts.

It is now shorter than the previous versions.  In response to industry input some aspects have been further clarified or given stronger emphasis. In particular these included areas where there was common confusion, changes in the legal landscape, or where the industry could do better.

The new document starts with the Taking Safe Decisions framework diagram showing the linked stages in planning and managing safety decisions. These include:

  1. identifying the need to make a change and implement a decision
  2. deciding what that change should be
  3. making the change safely
  4. checking it was the right decision



There are various reasons why a change might be initiated, for example in response to a safety concern or it might be triggered for commercial reasons, such as the desire to improve customer experience, the need to renew infrastructure or rolling stock, or changes to improve operational efficiencies.

A number of key questions on good practice in decision making are also provided, including:

  1. What are your legal responsibilities for safety risk?
  2. When should decisions be taken?
  3. Who should take decisions?
  4. How should decisions be taken?

The document outlines how the Taking Safe Decisions principles and framework relate to and support other safety management frameworks and activities such as an organisation’s Safety Management System, the Risk Management Maturity Model (RM3), CSM for monitoring and CSM for risk evaluation and assessment (CSM RA).

In addition to the main Taking Safe Decisions document, a number of other related materials are available here to support getting the most out of the framework. These include guidance that provides more technical detail on the application of CSM RA (GEGN8646).  These materials will be added to in response to user feedback.

A number of detailed issues relating to the Taking Safe Decisions principles will be continually monitored for improved industry understanding and to build consensus.  This may lead to future material to support the main document.

Taking Safe Decisions is a live and dynamic set of principles.  We’re therefore encouraging readers to download, discuss and test the new version in their organisations, and feedback on experience and use of the principles, making suggestions for future materials to help make Taking Safe Decisions more useful.  If you would like to provide comments or suggestions, you can email by 31 January 2020.

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Ben Gilmartin
Ben Gilmartin
Tel: 020 3142 5456