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Asset integrity – eyes everywhere

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Are companies potentially missing out on crucial intelligence from their own people? Catherine Baker heads up CIRAS, the transport sector’s confidential reporting service, and explains how all rail staff can play a part in the surveillance of assets, simply by having a trusted route to report concerns.

Assets in the rail sector never go unseen for long; we are an industry which is alive with people. Train drivers moving around the network and depot workers preparing the trains. Platform staff observing both trains and stations. Maintenance staff walking alongside the track to get to their worksite as well as those who are actively inspecting assets, and so many others. 

Every day, people are out and about using or working next to assets with the opportunity to notice when things are not right. And they do.

Well-established procedures are in place for immediate reporting of asset failures with a threat to safe operations, such as broken rails or rolling stock faults. Other systems enable reporting and tracking of other faults, both at cross-industry and individual company levels. 

But what about the things that don’t get reported through those systems?  These could be:

  • Things which are not quite right but which have become ‘normal’ for people, so they’re desensitised to the potential risk 
  • Things which seem a low priority so are not worth raising
  • Things which people think would have been reported by others
  • Things which people don’t feel confident to report because they are outside their expertise

It is here that untapped intelligence lies. Creating an environment in which we reduce these barriers is key. The consequences of someone reporting something twice are negligible, but the consequences of everyone thinking someone else has reported it could be catastrophic. 

Sometimes people choose to raise issues confidentially through CIRAS. In 2019/20 just over a third of concerns raised related to assets and equipment—including hand-held tools, rail vehicles, lighting, software and vegetation.

Most reporters to CIRAS come because they genuinely want to improve health and safety, but don’t feel able to report through other channels. It is important that these voices are heard. It is worth noting that around a quarter of concerns raised through CIRAS each year are ‘third party’ where a person raises an issue for a company other than their own employer. In an industry characterised by interfaces, the ability to raise concerns irrespective of who needs to respond is a critical function. After all, we all share the same railway.

Each concern or suggestion for improvement flagged through CIRAS is raised on the reporter’s behalf with the relevant company. They investigate and take action as appropriate. One recent case raised a concern about potholes in a depot leading to these being fixed. Others require more investigation such as occasional failures of radio communications on site, or rework where the design or materials of an asset are raised as an issue.

Once the issue has been addressed, and CIRAS has closed the loop with the reporter, the report is added to the CIRAS data bank. Here, we can look for patterns and trends. This can provide an early warning of emerging issues which have not yet become close calls or incidents, and may not be picked up through other channels. Linking to other data sources creates an even bigger opportunity—one we are already exploring with RSSB sources.

If you would like access to resources to encourage your people to report concerns, or would like more information on the intelligence in our data bank, contact enquiries@ciras.org.uk.

Further information

Catherine Baker is Director of CIRAS, with over 20 years of experience in the transport sector spanning policy, risk management and research, all connected by the thread of working to deliver better outcomes for businesses, their customers, and their people – particularly for health, wellbeing and safety.

Having spent much of her career working with those taking decisions that impact safety outcomes, she has shifted focus to enabling people on the front line who often have the best first-hand knowledge of the hazards to have their voices heard when they might otherwise stay silent. Hence helping the companies they work for to take better informed decisions.

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Catherine Baker
Catherine Baker
Tel: 020 3142 5459
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