When future generations look back at the 21st century, they will see a time of exponential growth, of technological advances, of environmental progress and even the changing landscape of the British railway system…

From steam to electric, gas lamps to signals and women in bikinis to fully-fledged safety campaigns, how is depot safety being brought into the 21 century? The likelihood is that the first thing that sprung to mind is an 1800s steam train instead of the electric models you see on the tracks today. Whilst the change in aesthetic is recognised there are many underlying factors that are responsible for revolutionising Britain’s railways.

Developments in engineering, awareness, and training have drastically improved the safety for staff and passengers. As Britain holds the title for the safest railways in Europe, it’s not surprising that our tracks rely on up to date infrastructure to function.

Whilst one may assume that the largest advances were made during the appointment of the British Railways Board in 1963, it wasn’t until 2002 that Victorian engineering was cast aside.

In 2002 the Telegraph confirmed that Victorian Oil Lamps were still being used on Britain’s railways. The lamps which were still being lit by hand were used to light trackside signals across Britain, using technology that dated back to 1830.

Improving infrastructure is something that has been well documented throughout depot history, one of the most ground-breaking being Depot Personnel Protection System (DPPS). The DPPS used across the UK, incorporates the use of intelligent distributed control and communication technology.

The system which eliminates the risk of single-point failure by providing increased system resilience has played its part in reducing delayed and cancelled journeys since the turn of the millennia.

Prior to the widespread introduction of DPPS, switch failures cost Network Rail more than £120 million-a-year and account for more than 3,800,000 minutes (63,300 hours) of delays. Another advance preventing delays is the Fenix Tie-FenLock Depot control system. The innovative solution assists Depot Operators by reducing their workload and increasing safety, allowing them to set multiple routes within the depot in just a few seconds to optimise the operation of the depot.

A simple yet vital piece of technology that has changed depot operation for the better is Front and Rear Facing CCTV (FRFCCTV). Whilst in 2020 CCTV would not be considered revolutionary by any means, the implementation of FRFCCTV is helping to reduce risk in depots.

One of the greatest priorities of the British Railway Boards has been raising the standard of safety and health. In the 19th century, the railway company’s safety concerns were limited to its passengers. Whilst companies felt a responsibility to cautioning its passengers their workers were often responsible for their personal safety – an unimaginable concept in Britain today.

A shift in the attitudes of safety and health came when the Health and Safety Executive recognised that the ALARP principle has been overtaken by the specific requirements of the Technical Standards for Interoperability (TSIs).

Roger Kemp a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Technical and Safety Director in ALSTOM Transport UK, explains: ‘This advice represents a major change to the railway safety regime and moves the train building industry closer to the motor vehicle industry, where compliance with European safety standards is deemed adequate and where manufacturers are not required to demonstrate that their products have reduced risks to a level ‘as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP)’.’

This progression led to a new way of the way professionals and business leaders started to perceive safety and health, a far cry from the stereotypical imagery of hard hats and steel cap boots.

Awareness surrounding occupational illness has been paramount to raising the standards of education within the workplace, and they are not always visible.

Railroad workers have an elevated risk of occupational exposure to asbestos due to the presence of the material in ageing railcars and tracks. When working with or coming into contact with these materials, workers are put at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

Recent research from the HSE has estimated there are around 13,500 new cases of cancer caused by work every year and over 8,000 deaths, over half of which are due to past exposures to asbestos: making the protection of railway workers imperative.

The No Time to Lose Campaign which was launched in 2014 by the Institution of Safety and Health acted as an international flagship for raising awareness and campaigning for Occupational Cancer. The campaign, now in its sixth year has been such a success that its research has been presented at UN agencies around the world and is set to launch in West Africa this year.

Campaigns like this ensure that employees, as well as business leaders, are aware of the causes of occupational cancer, and what can be done to prevent risks that claim the lives of 742,000 lives a year – just by going to work.

The HSE, who are big supporters of the campaign said: ‘We are actively supporting the ‘No Time to Lose’ campaign to raise awareness of carcinogenic exposure issues and help businesses take action. Prevention really is better than a cure and health needs to be managed like safety.’

However asbestos and silica are not the only risks that have come to the attention of organisations. The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) point out that the cause of accidents in depots today is fatigue, signals passed at danger, and management of change.

When asked to look back over the past one hundred years, Adrian Ling, the ORR’s longest-serving inspector, stated: ‘The HSE must take a lot of the credit for raising the profile of health and safety generally (and it’s disappointing that health and safety has got a bad name because of risk aversion and misrepresentation) but I think that a lot of the improvement has been brought about by the activities of HMRI by nagging the industry to keep health and safety at the top of the agenda.’

Adrian believes there have been some significant improvements in passenger safety brought about by changes in legislation as a result of disasters, but the improvement in staff safety has been mainly brought about by a change in culture. A culture that has begun to recognise the importance of mental health as on par with the seriousness of worker safety.

A major factor of bringing depot safety into the 21st century has been cultivating a healthy working environment, in all its forms. The rate of suicide in the rail workforce is 1.6 times higher than the UK average, with over 60 per cent of workers having experienced mental health according to statistics to the Office of Rail and Road.

In a move to embrace this way of thinking the Samaritans have united Britain’s railway by bringing the second together in a campaign that is set to redefine the perceptions of mental health in the industry: The Million Hour Challenge.

Over the next five years The Million Hour Challenge will help prevent suicide within the industry, through volunteering with the Samaritans, raising awareness as well as creating fundraising opportunities.

Aimee Skelly-Burgess a committee member of the IOSH Railway Group said: ‘Suicide prevention is high on the agenda for the rail industry. It is so important we continue to raise the profile of mental health and encourage everyone to feel confident to have the conversation. Just reaching out and asking how someone is doing (a stranger or a colleague) can make all the difference.’

The five-year campaign builds upon the existing rail industry suicide prevention programme which was founded in 2010. The new changes brought in by the One Million Hour project have meant that 19,000 depot staff have received training by the Samaritans including prevention and support courses.

Collaboratively, advances in engineering, ground-breaking research in occupational cancer, and cultivating an open platform for mental health reform, have started to bring innovative change to the industry: for what we hope is the beginning of bringing depot safety into the 21st century.

If you would like to find out more about the No Time to Lose Campaign or the Million Hour Challenge, please visit: https://www.notimetolose.org.uk/ or email [email protected]

Emma Guy is Communications Officer at IOSH