What’s industry doing to elevate employee health and wellbeing?

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It’s vital that rail employees have good health and wellbeing—not only for the individuals themselves, but also for the safety and efficiency of the rail network. Our industry has long been recognised for its commitment to safety. Now, the focus is on replicating this success in the realm of employee health.

Recent data from the RSSB Health Data Hub project reveals that rail employees experience a lost time rate that’s 2.3 times higher than the national average. Mental health and musculoskeletal conditions are the main causes of absence. This results in an average cost of £2,214 per employee per year. Again, that’s significantly higher than the national average.

The 2021 RSSB Mental Health Survey further highlights that one in three railway workers have symptoms of mental health conditions. Once more, that rate is much higher than the national average of one in six. 

Also, the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among rail workers is over twice that of the general population. This underscores the need for effective support systems for employees affected by traumatic events at work.

Closing the gaps

The availability of industry data has led to targeted actions to improve employee wellbeing. The Railway Mental Health Charter, for instance, has recently been updated using industry data and feedback. That was done to respond to the evolving needs of the workforce.

However, further work is required to drive more industry engagement. The Rail Health and Safety Strategy for 2024 to 2029 outlines key challenges and actions to address these issues. It emphasises the need for increased involvement from railway organisations to shape the future health of the workforce.

Fatigue has long been a focal point. The Fatigue Working Group has identified the need for practical training for line managers in responding to fatigue reports. New guidance and workshops have been developed to assist in fatigue risk assessment and management. This highlights industry’s proactive approach to this persistent challenge.

In addition, the Rail Wellbeing Alliance has recently restructured into three subgroups (rather than seven). This change will streamline their work and help stakeholders get more involved in the issues that matter to them. It also enables a comprehensive approach to addressing health risks from clinical, prevention, and practical perspectives.

What’s still to come?

One of the three new subgroups is the Occupational Health and Hygiene Group. It’s focusing on four key workstreams this year. 

Notably, the Exposure of Risk at Work Group is creating an industry risk matrix profile and a digital risk assessment tool to manage preventable health conditions effectively. Also, the review of medical standards will reflect advancements in modern medicine. This will enable better management of conditions like diabetes in the workplace.

By addressing the current challenges and focusing on continuous improvement in health and wellbeing, the rail industry aims to achieve the same degree of success in health as it has in safety. That will ultimately benefit employees, wider society, and the rail network as a whole.

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