James Fox, Commercial Director of 3Squared looks at the Annual Health and Safety Report published by the Railway Safety and Standards Board, RSSB

Following the publication of the 2019 AHSR, Ali Chegini, the RSSB’s Director of System Safety and Health said: ‘We can’t lose sight of the importance of essential health and safety management … Especially in an era of major structural and organisational change.’

Chegini was of course referring to the devolution of Network Rail, which at the time, at the beginning of CP6, was in its very early stages of implementation. The subsequent 2020 AHSR, published shortly before the country was put into lockdown, reasserted that Britain’s railways are still the safest in Europe, a fact of which we should be proud, but a fact which should not cause us to rest on our laurels.

Approximately a year on, during the Network Rail National Supplier Conference (6th May 2021) Sir Peter Hendy, Andrew Haines and the devolved routes’ Managing Directors spoke to a huge online audience. The conference centred on the importance of Project Speed and discussed ways in which Network Rail and its supply chain might work closer together to achieve ‘step change’ in reducing the cost of building and maintaining our railways.

In stark contrast to the overall ebullience of the conference, Rob McIntosh, Route Managing Director of the Eastern Region referred to the accident that had taken places days earlier at Ramsden Bellhouse, in which one of the victims sustained life-changing injuries. McIntosh was clear in his message: that we should not be complacent, that Ramsden Bellhouse, like any accident, is unacceptable, and that in his opinion collective standards in relation to safe working seem to have fallen in recent times.

Our own safety and that of our colleagues, be that line-side or elsewhere is something that must not be compromised, and something we must all strive to protect.

The importance of competencies in upholding safety

Rail workers, as with anyone working in a safety-critical environment, need to possess the right competencies to perform effectively, efficiently, and safely, for their own and their colleagues’ and our customers’ combined safety. Competencies in the railway differ from role to role and these comprise many different skills from the ‘pass/fail’ taught and learned skills to potentially more complicated non-technical skills, i.e., social, cognitive, and personal skills; non-technical skills arguably add a layer of sophistication to an individual’s capability and ease in which they carry out their work.

The Office of Road and Rail Regulation, the ORR, focuses on improving the safety, value and performance of railways and roads ‘today and in the future’. The ORR uses its Risk Management Maturity Model (RM3) to clearly set out its expectations in relation to health and safety on the railways as summarised in the topics below:

  • H&S policy, leadership and board governance.
  • Organising for control and communication.
  • Securing cooperation, competence and development of employees at all levels.
  • Planning and implementing risk controls through coordinated management arrangements.
  • Monitoring, audit and review.

Competency management systems, CMSs, provide a framework and process through which an organisation manages its H&S by ensuring that the requisite number of staff possess, maintain and review the necessary competencies at all levels.

Securing competence and development of staff at all levels is a crucial element of simultaneously embedding and securing a culture that proactively manages safety, by making health and safety everybody’s business. Organisations ‘need an effective system for managing competence to help make sure that their staff have the appropriate skills. Making sure that workers, supervisors, managers and directors have and keep the appropriate skills, helps ensure those members of staff make safe decisions and carry out their work safely, reducing the risks to themselves and to other people.’ (Source: ORR, RM3 2019).

Management consultancy, Arthur D Little states in its Viewpoint article Competence at the heart of a safe organization that ‘effective competence management is a fundamental component of any safe organization’ and that ‘failure to effectively manage competence increases the risk of incidents and accidents’ (authors: Hannah Marsden, Stephen Watson, adlittle.com). The authors go on to explain that each industry and all organisations within those industries face their own unique risks, therefore they each develop the need for their own unique CMS.

Developing the CMS to develop the employee

Here at 3Squared, we are proud to count over 25,000 individuals as users of our Employee Development System, EDS. EDS is a competency management system that sits at the heart of RailSmart, our suite of digital tools that enables our clients to harness the digitalisation of processes to become safer, more efficient and more sustainable. Used by Network Rail, passenger and freight operators, vehicle and wagon manufacturers and maintainers, EDS has been developed as a SaaS product for the railway industry, but it is a system that offers carefully tailored content to ensure that it is intuitive to use whilst addressing the specific and complex needs of each client in relation to their unique risk profiles.

EDS is not a standard or generic CMS. As a product, it is constantly evolving: whether supporting a train driver in maintaining and developing their route and traction knowledge, or supporting a signalling engineer in ensuring they are truly competent to carry out their work in such a safety-critical environment, EDS is constantly absorbing and supporting an ever-increasing number of skills profiles. EDS inherently enables an employer to ascertain its organisational skills level, technical and non-technical, ensuring that each individual has sight of and ownership of their own skills progression, and ultimately helping each employee develop into their next level of competence. This then helps the organisation to manage its overall skills and succession planning and to remain on the front foot should there be a safety-related issue (see figure 1: competence management system cycle, adapted from the ORR’s ‘Developing and maintaining staff competencies’ Nov 2019) EDS provides rigorous auditing capabilities, and external, remote verification also proves that organisations using EDS are putting their employees at the centre of their own safety management. As the RM3 model proves, employees need not only to be competent in their own right, but they need to be competent in relation to their employer’s H&S policies. By empowering employees to develop through EDS, our clients are completely aligned with Chegini, McIntosh and all of our industry’s leaders, to whom safety comes first. The digital railway is a competent railway, and above all, a safe railway.

‘All companies should periodically review their arrangements regarding the maintenance of the competence of their staff and implement improvements to ensure that the risks to railways and other guided transport systems are properly controlled.’ – Ian Prosser, Chief Inspector, ORR

James Fox, Commercial Director of 3Squared co-founded the company along with MD, Tim Jones in 2002. 3Squared has grown from a start-up to being one of the leading digital SMEs within the rail supply chain, employing over 50 full-time employees, and providing extensive placement, apprenticeship and graduate schemes to encourage more youngsters into rail.


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