All industries rightly focus attention on systems and processes to address risks that their workforces face and that their operations present. The railway is not risk-free to its employees, but no one can deny that today’s rail staff benefit from higher levels of safety on the actual railway than ever before, and that there is a lot of attention on recognisable risks such as those associated with working on or around the line.

But what about something more outwardly everyday as driving a car or works van? Are we managing the risk posed by work-related driving? How does it feature in our safety management systems (SMS) or the way we manage risk in our organisations?

Pretty much everyone drives. There are likely to be at least 75,000 road vehicles linked to the rail industry. This includes use by mobile operations managers, maintenance teams and contractors. Staff may need to travel from job-to-job early in the day or late at night, depending on the task in hand, and to access very particular bits of the infrastructure, depending on engineering schedules and incidents that occur.

In fact, we probably feel quite safe in our car, despite the fact that 1,901 people were killed on the roads in 2011 – a three per cent increase on 2010, and the first increase since 2003.

What felt like the scariest feeling imaginable on our first driving lesson became second nature, and we will confidently drive from A to B without any kind of anxiety or association with risk; such are the automatic behaviours and mental short-cuts that come with motoring.

But this risk is probably bigger than we think. Currently, on average five people die on Britain’s roads every day.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) calculates that ‘after deep sea fishing and coal mining, driving 25,000 miles a year on business is the most life-threatening activity we undertake – more dangerous than working in construction.’

2011 may have seen the first increase in fatalities on the road since 2003, but it also saw a decline in road use. Economic welfare costs to society for road traffic collisions come between £15 billion and £35 billion.

Now the rail industry wants to grasp the nettle and embed the right processes and practices into safety management systems, and has asked RSSB to investigate.

Underreporting of road accidents by rail staff

The first challenge is to understand what to report and record. The rail industry’s Safety Risk Model, which provides a picture of where risk comes from, has road risk positioned at three per cent of total workforce risk, whereas RoSPA found that work-related driving in similar industries can account for up to 30 per cent. This suggests gross underreporting and some confusion about what is ‘in scope’.

Duty holders are obliged to report into the systems managed by RSSB, and that includes the incidents that occur across all the contractor organisations on duty holders’ watch, but who don’t have an obligation to report in directly themselves.

A recent RSSB survey of rail organisations confirmed the level of underreporting prevalent around RTC’s (road traffic collisions). Responses revealed 500 RTC’s, 100 injuries and five fatalities in one year, based on about a third of the industry (both in numbers of organisations and proportion of road fleet).

CIRAS separately received 23 reports in two years of rail staff concerned about long hours and excessive driving for work. Industry now wants to develop more reliable arrangements for reporting and analysing road traffic collision events.

The second challenge is establishing cross-industry consensus with a view to sponsoring information, resources or perhaps ultimately some form of national code of practice if accepted by the industry. By way of example, the oil and gas industry have done this quite well in developing global standards on ‘land transportation safety’ which set minimum expectations for work-related driving but also aim to encourage organisations and contractors to continually improve management of this risk.

For the rail industry, a number of organisations, as well as Network Rail, and the Office of Rail Regulation, have already started research through RSSB to get a better understanding.

The issue of fatigue

An early focus has been road driving fatigue. The recently-issued briefing DVD, RED 35, adopts its usual dramatic format to reconstruct a story of a seemingly conscientious and responsible teamplayer rail worker yielding to fatigue and then embroiled in a road traffic accident. Focusing the minds of operational staff, it shows how a wide range of things can align tragically, but also what can be done by everyone to make sure the workforce get to work and home again safely. The video also prompts specific questions for managers to ensure that the potential for road vehicle driver fatigue is incorporated into job design, rostering, work risk assessments, and travel planning for work.

We are also generating new guidance to help staff and their managers identify the risk of fatigue when driving, how to recognise the warning signs and cope with this issue. These will include references to the issues raised in RED 35 and are being distributed to rail companies, along with reminder sheets for staff to keep in the car and awareness-raising posters to put up in canteens, foyers and mess rooms.

Encouragingly, a lot of positive existing information has now been identified to help inform a national code or railway best practice. Apart from the various railway industry forums such as ISLG and ATOC Safety Forum, RSSB has engaged with ROSPA, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the European Transport Safety Council, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme and the Driving for Better Business campaign to understand what could benefit the rail industry.

The problem is that a lot of this salient information is fragmented, meaning it doesn’t always lend itself to being readily adopted by rail companies. Instead, RSSB has been tasked with developing a dedicated area on the web for the rail industry to access specific, relevant information on managing road-driving risk and help raise awareness. This will aid embedding of work-related driving risk controls into safety management systems, and boost legal safeguards as well as rail staff safety.