MSDs are one of the leading causes of health absence across the rail sector and this is reflected within Southeastern. Without a clear and defined process in place and embedded within an organisation, there remains a risk of a high prevalence of MSDs across the workforce, which can lead to long term absenteeism, the development of disabilities and the development of other health problems e.g. poor mental health. 

What alerted Southeastern to the risk?

This risk arose through a wider piece of work around cab ergonomics, following an inspection by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The ORR require rail operating companies to outline how they plan to prevent and manage MSDs and although we had all the measures in place, they were not documented in an easily accessible place for people. We were therefore asked to create a standalone MSD policy.

How did Southeastern plan and design the intervention?

We conducted an information gathering exercise to identify and fully understand the current measures in place to manage MSD risk. This was done through conversations and meetings with several people including local trainers, administrators and functions across the business including Passenger Services and Engineering.

We conducted a review and collated existing documentation, including risk assessments, reporting processes and other internal policies. As part of this process, we also reviewed our training suite and guidance on risks around manual handling and display screen equipment.

We worked with several stakeholders including Human Resources & Safety, as well as third party providers such as occupational health and physiotherapists.

The exercise itself was very useful as it allowed us an opportunity to review and identify areas in which we could improve, ensuring a robust and effective process for the management and prevention of MSDs in the workplace.

What did Southeastern do to reduce the identified?

We created a MSDs standard policy owned by the Head of Safety and Environment which can be embedded within Southeastern. The policy sets out arrangements to reduce the risk associated with MSDs arising from work-based activities or tasks to avoid ill health and accidents in the workplace. It sets out responsibilities in achieving these measures and how Southeastern will monitor and review the effectiveness of their arrangements, as well as the referral pathways in place. This policy encourages all colleagues to raise MSD concerns found in the workplace and sets clear expectations as to how they will be resolved.

How is the policy structured and what’s included?

The MSDs policy structure is outlined below, with brief descriptions as to the content contained within each section. This can be used as a checklist if you are looking to create your own MSDs policy and want to ensure that you have covered the key points:

  • Purpose
  • Scope
  • MSD policy statement
  • How MSDs may occur within the workplace
  • Risk prevention
  • Managing the risks of MSDs
  • Responsibilities
  • Review and monitoring

What will Southeastern use as an outcome measure?

We are using existing data measures to continue to monitor the effectiveness of the measures in place. This includes the use of absence rates, accidents and incident reports, Occupational Health (OH) referrals and physiotherapy treatments. This will also be covered as part of our internal and external audit scope going forward.

We have recently carried out a survey with train drivers, which will provide us with comparative data and will allow us to use the feedback to make further improvements.

In addition, we plan to use benchmarking data, both through third-party providers and their clients, and at an industry wide level through implementation of the Wellbeing KPI dashboard. 

What challenges were experienced / overcome?

We were fortunate as there weren’t too many challenges in implementing the policy, especially since the initial instruction came from the ORR. We took it to our Company Standards and Recommendations group which has representation from across the business for discussion and approval before rolling it out company wide.

During the process, we sought feedback from several external specialists including an ergonomics consultant, an OH practitioner, a physiotherapist and the ORR. When reaching out to the industry to find out what other organisations had in place we found no examples of MSD policies already in existence. This meant the policy had to be created from scratch using individual knowledge around policy writing and drawing on examples of MSD policies found outside of the rail industry. 

What has it meant for front line staff and Southeastern?

This exercise allowed us to systematically review our risk prevention measures in one place and identify the additional information needed through a gap analysis. Bringing together all the information and guidance from existing policies has allowed us to review our risk prevention measures for MSDs as one.

As with all policies this will take time to embed across the organisation, but we will continue to work with our people and managers to ensure the policy and measures within it are both fit for purpose and ultimately reduce MSDs within the workplace.