What risk were Southeastern addressing?

The way in which drivers interact with the multiple intertwining cab components as part of driving cab operations may lead to MSD health issues. Through a risk assessment and a collaborative working group combining the knowledge of engineering, train services and ergonomics specialists, Southeastern were able to identify the presence of several musculoskeletal disorder risks in the drivers’ working environment.

What alerted Southeastern to the risk?

In February 2021 an independent ‘Triangulated Report’ carried out on behalf of Southeastern identified several potential risks related to MSDs and the cab environment. These risks were identified using the RSSB MSD Assessment Tool and driver surveys. The risks included the incorrect setup of the driver seat and driver safety device (DSD) pedal for individual drivers, and the cleanliness of windows and platform monitors. 

To comprehend the report and associated recommendations fully, Southeastern invited the author of the report to the Fleet User Group (FUG). FUG is a forum where drivers, train crew, and engineering teams discuss and exchange information on fleet performance, improvements, modifications, fleet risks and ongoing issues. One of the key themes of the group is ‘Changing the ergonomics language’. This is the overarching approach FUG has taken to cab ergonomics, considering the cab and user together as a system.

The group had previously highlighted issues around the cab environment and the risk of drivers suffering from MSD-related issues. These concerns coincided with some of the findings detailed in the independent report.

How did Southeastern plan and design the intervention?

FUG divided the identified risks into two key areas: people and equipment. It agreed to prioritise work on these areas, setting up the Cab Ergonomics Focus Group to work exclusively on them. The group comprised approximately 20 colleagues from around the business and ensured the right balance between drivers, engineering and management. This enabled members to participate collaboratively in the resolution of these issues.

The findings from the report were used as the foundation for the group’s discussion, and solutions were prioritised based on the recommendations from the report. However, the discussion has since led to further risk areas and solutions being identified. The group continues to meet and discussions are still ongoing regarding work on the medium to long-term solutions for the newly-identified risk areas. 

What did Southeastern do to reduce the risks identified?

Southeastern took several actions to reduce the risks that were identified by FUG. These actions have been divided into two broad categories: People and Equipment. The actions under People provide knowledge and tools to individuals to help prevent and manage MSDs. For Equipment, the actions aim to reduce MSD risks in the workplace by modifying equipment and procedures.


  • Driver education – training videos about MSD injuries and their prevention were improved.
  • Driver training and competency – a new video on the correct seat setup is being created with the support of a physiotherapist. The video will be integrated into the driver competency framework.
  • Driver Manager education – Driver Managers and Driver Instructors will be given further education to improve MSD conversations.
  • Driver aids – a user trial was completed to identify the best lumbar support equipment. The selected aid will be made available to all staff.
  • Physio support – the process of referring drivers to physiotherapists was reviewed. The current process of referrals to a physiotherapist now includes the wider use of lumber supports, along with cab assessments. As part of the driver education, the use of mobile seat rigs at depot roadshows is being considered.


  • Modification to existing rolling stock – the feasibility of Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) fitment to existing stock was assessed, to remove the need for platform monitors. The feasibility of seat modifications to improve the longevity of seating and reduce injuries was also assessed.
  • DSD Pedal – a testing specification will be created for maintenance staff to check against the actual position of the DSD pedal in individual cabs.
  • Maintenance documentation - driver’s seat maintenance procedures and overhaul requirements were updated to include comfort checks and ergonomics issues. This widened the documentation’s focus beyond a narrow focus on ‘fit, form and function’.
  • Cab windows – maintenance was improved to reduce injury during operation, specifically cleanliness of windows for dispatch.

What will Southeastern use as an outcome measure?

Southeastern will collect and monitor data on:

  • Reports of defective equipment
  • Driver competence assessments
  • Driver referrals to physiotherapist supplier
  • Driver sickness as a result of MSD injuries.
  • Staff satisfaction surveys.

What challenges were experienced or overcome?

This workstream is ongoing. However, FUG members, independent experts and ORR have been very strongly supportive of this work, with management and unions recognising that it is the right thing to do.

In the current climate, ownership changes and the COVID pandemic has made it a challenge to find the time in an already busy schedule to facilitate and fund these initiatives.

Integrating the focus group within an existing user group that meets every six weeks, and having this workstream as a standing agenda item, has ensured that discussions on the recommendations happened, were progressed and continue to do so.

What has this work delivered for front line staff or the company?

The information gained from this work helps drivers, Southeastern’s engineering department and cab design. The new information improves the driver’s knowledge and skills so that they can manage their own MSD risks better. Undertaking an investigation of the MSD risks identified in this project, and across several different cabs, has provided our engineering department with valuable insight regarding best practices and innovation. Improving our own engineers’ knowledge and maintenance documentation about end-user requirements gives them invaluable information to provide drivers with a safe and attractive working environment inside train cabs.

This knowledge is being carried forward into the design of any new rolling stock purchased. It is also being used to help educate train stock suppliers about the factors that need to be considered and assessed when designing train cabs.