Due to the high-risk nature of trackside environments, ensuring worker safety continues to be an industry priority, says Leo Scott Smith

As rail plays an important role in achieving net zero carbon emissions in the UK, focus on maintenance and upgrades are essential to ensure minimal disruption and a positive customer experience. It was recently announced in the statements of funds available (SoFas) that Network Rail will be provided with £49 billion to spend over CP7; much of which will be put toward renewal programmes that require people to work trackside. The people who carry out these essential works do so in hazardous environments where open lines and exposure to high-voltage electricity have the potential to cause severe injury or death.

A leading cause of many trackside incidents is due to diminishing worker situational awareness, which can contribute to avoidable accidents and near misses with trains. Typical safety protocols managed through paper-based diagrams, written documentation and physical barriers are all subject to high costs as well as human error. Miscommunication, distraction, complacency and fatigue are just a few human factors that can lead to a loss of situational awareness, which, in high-risk environments, can be fatal.

To address these safety challenges and loss of situational awareness, Tended worked alongside Network Rail to develop an innovative solution to transform trackside safety. Having already had success developing safety wearables for safety-critical environments, Tended created a wearable solution to function as a sixth sense or ‘tap on the shoulder’ to alert a worker in real-time if they leave a position of safety. Alerting workers as soon as they enter hazardous areas or approach an open line augments their situational awareness, helping to stop preventable near misses and accidents.

Over three years and with rigorous R&D and live environment trials with Network Rail, Tended created its high-precision geofencing wearable, which, in September 2022, received official product acceptance from Network Rail for use on UK railway infrastructure.

Tended’s geofencing solution – transforming safety in rail

Geofences are virtual geographic boundaries, defined by digital coordinates. They can be created in any shape or location and there is no limit to how big a geofence can be, making them an incredibly flexible and useful tool for creating zones on a worksite.

Tended uses geofencing technology to enable planners to define critical details on site before work starts. Using an online Planning Dashboard, planners can map out safe working zones with associated safe access points and plot the location of safety equipment. This means that in addition to defining safe zones, the technology can also be used to modernise site operations and allow planners to define the location of critical assets such as marker boards and possession limit boards, as well as easily pinpoint safe access points for workers. This will help to prevent unsafe events that arise from miscommunication or misinterpreted instructions, such as track workers accessing a worksite from the wrong location or before a line has been blocked.

The Planning Dashboard is accompanied by a small wearable device. Worn by workers, this device pinpoints their near-exact proximity to the planned geofence boundaries. If they cross a boundary, the Wearable alerts them in real-time through a combination of audio, visual and haptic alerts, providing an exigent warning that they should move back to safety and helping them regain situational awareness.

Using this technology in high-risk and safety-critical environments, such as on the railway, means that a high level of precision is essential. Tended’s system achieves an incredible accuracy of around 14 mm by using an existing network of beacons. Using this well-established network allows Tended to achieve highly accurate positioning without the need for onsite infrastructure or set-up. Not only does it provide fail-safe coverage for remote and rural areas, but it also enables users to get going with the technology right away. On average, it takes less than ten minutes (including planning) to get the technology deployed onsite, saving valuable project time and costs by getting teams set up and onsite as quickly as possible.

Wearables and Psychology to instil sustainable behavioural change

The benefits of Tended’s Wearables to improve track worker safety is heavily underpinned by behavioural science. In the short term, the benefit of using the technology is that it provides a timely ‘tap on the shoulder’ to track workers to increase their situational awareness and provides a proactive solution to preventable accidents, helping them stay away from hazards and ultimately, saving lives.

Over time, this tap on the shoulder automatically prompts a behavioural change by increasing hazard perception. These adjustments to behaviour are normalised over time, and habitual use of the device nudges wearers into higher levels of situational awareness. These long-term behavioural changes mean that overall, workers will practise safer behaviours, not only contributing to their workplace welfare but also helping organisations to create safer, more efficient worksites for everyone.

Tended has a dedicated in-house behavioural science team who have contributed significantly toward the development of the technology since its inception to instil long-term behavioural change. The team also supports customers from onboarding, implementation and deployment to ensure successful workforce participation and engagement with the solution.

With worker privacy a key consideration among organisations, it must be noted that the technology hasn’t been developed to monitor, track or record a user’s location at any point. The real-time whereabouts of a device is only used to alert the wearer when they are no longer safe, protecting the privacy of workers and helping to encourage engagement with the technology. Once works have been completed, analytics and data trends provide safety leaders with insights about the overall safety of their worksites to support its continued, proactive and long-term improvements.

An innovative solution for the rail industry

On 3 September 2022, Network Rail issued their latest safety standard (NR/ L2/OHS/501 Module W4) which is a module that, for the first time, specifies the requirements for the use of geofencing on the railway. This new standard marks the start of a transformative era for track workers using wearable technology to keep them safe. By incorporating this technology into their Safe Systems of Work, organisations can better protect their workers and more effectively comply with safety standards. In doing so, we can pioneer the future of safety technology on the railway and lead the way for safer UK rail infrastructure for all.

Following product acceptance from Network Rail, as well as the release of their new geofencing standard, Tended’s technology is now being rolled-out to Network Rail routes and principal contractors.

The system is being applied on worksites for the likes of AmcoGiffen, Network Rail Wales and Borders, Network Rail North and East and most recently, Siemens.

Tended is working with these clients to integrate geofencing into their existing systems and processes to help improve the safety of its workers and strengthen site efficiency.

The system is currently being implemented by Siemens across locations around Northumberland in the Eastern region and around Welwyn on the East Coast Mainline. The technology is being used to create safe zones for their trackside teams when conducting adjacent open line working or working within possessions. The Wearable’s alerts will then keep workers within these safe working zones and stop them from coming into the path of oncoming trains or close to electrical hazards.

Principal contractors Story Contracting and Morgan Sindall are also about to begin using Tended’s technology with their trackside workforce, with Morgan Sindall further applying it to the positioning of critical protection equipment. Tended’s system will be used for geotagging to help ensure the safe and correct placement of marker boards and other assets to monitor the movement of on-track plant and machines in real time.

The future of safety on the rail

While the rail industry has undergone a radical transformation in recent years, earning it a reputation as one of the safest and most reliable rail networks in the world, safety innovation to protect its trackside workers has been more modest. Each fatal incident is shocking and deeply distressing.

Tended has been instrumental in bringing geofencing to the forefront of the railway industry, helping to revolutionise track worker safety and onsite operations. By bringing this innovation and first-of-its-kind technology into the safety-critical railway industry, Tended is helping organisations transform the welfare of their trackside teams.

Earlier this year, Tended’s geofencing solution won the Safety and Security Excellence category at the Rail Business Awards, cited for its life-saving abilities. The solution also won the Engineering and Safety category at the 2022 Railway Innovation Awards, winning against tough competition from the likes of Network Rail and Thales.

 

Leo Scott Smith is the CEO and founder of award-winning safety technology startup Tended. He has been the driving force behind Tended’s transformative solutions for safety-critical industries, including the company’s advanced geofencing solution. Developed alongside Network Rail, this solution can help prevent accidents and near misses in the industry by helping workers regain situational awareness when they leave safe working limits. In 2021, Leo was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30. He was also named Midlands Startup Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2019 Great British Entrepreneur Awards.