Project Overview

Rail is a safety-critical industry, so ensuring safety and reliability in all operations is essential. Safe systems of work help to maintain this safety and reliability by minimising the risk of accidents and incidents, ensuring trains run on time, and providing a positive experience for passengers.

However, the client in this case study had a concern that its SSoW documents were growing in both number and size, with the unintended effect that workers were unable to read and absorb all the information required. The client was concerned that ticked boxes on SSoW documents to indicate comprehension did not mean that the worker had understood and absorbed all the information. Conversely, it was recognised that if every document was to be read as intended, it would take up too much worker time before they could even put a tool in the ground.

Our infrastructure client recognised the need for more concise and focused documentation in plain English, while still achieving the safety standards required. 

Project Delivery and Outcome

We were approached via existing relationships in recognition of our expertise as custodians of railway standards, and extensive experience addressing challenges across frontline rail operations. The client felt we were best placed to review the existing safe system of work documents and ensure they were fit for practice.

Our project lead was a principal rail operations specialist with significant experience within the delivery of standards, the GB railway Rule Book, and research to contribute to a better, safer railway. Those research projects included the creation of a decision-making tool to support staff in making better operational decisions. They also collaborated with one our principal human factors experts who has over 15 years’ experience within the railway industry.

In addition, time was of the essence, so the client wanted to work only with the subject-matter experts that are already among the most informed in the world. By removing the time spent getting up to speed, our project lead was able to work on resolving the problems straight away.

We started by conducting an independent review of the existing documents and then made recommendations for a new ‘condensed safe systems of work’. The objective was to produce shorter and more useable and practical documents for frontline operations while maintaining the safety standards.  

Our experts’ work required detailed feedback from staff involved with all stages of SSoW, including planners, managers, supervisors, and end users. 

This included speaking to different UK regions to gather intelligence and feedback about their experiences of working with the safe systems of work documents. 

This was then combined with our hands-on experience and whole-system expertise to evaluate how to best to convey the required safety information. Our experts applied their skills in using best practice from human factors, such as how we consume information, and safety procedures from the railway safety Rule Book.

The project outcome was a slimmed-down SSoW information pack, delivered in a user-friendly format while still containing all the information required by the GERT8000 Rule Book Handbooks and NR/L2/OHS/019 issue 10. This was easier and safer for frontline staff to use, leading to improved safety and reduced costs for the client.


For over 20 years our specialists have worked every day to solve the complex challenges faced by rail operators, infrastructure partners, and suppliers, to keep the railway safe. Indeed, as Great Britain’s independent rail network research body, our experts set the industry standards that cover the whole rail system, not just part of it.

Much of our work is dedicated to keeping rail workers safe. The standards we set within safe systems of work help to ensure compliance with safety regulations and standards, minimising the risk of accidents and incidents, and avoiding potential legal and financial penalties. Our subject-matter experts are already among the most informed in the world, so we became the ideal partner of choice for an infrastructure partner to conduct a safe systems of work review.