Leanne Hammond from AssessTech explains why a verification strategy is vital for steering your verification plan, accelerating staff competence, and transforming safety across the railway

Almost all railway operators have a verification plan for improving safety; some might think it is a strategy. There is a vital difference.

For several years, it has been a legal requirement for railway operators to have formal systems in place for managing and developing the competence of staff who undertake safety critical activities. These are designed to ensure that essential checks are carried out and that clear, accurate records are maintained on a regular basis.

The Office of Rail and Road recommends that, ‘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’ (Developing and Maintaining Staff Competence, 2016).

The problem
Most verification plans do not on their own, statistically, tend to improve those desired outcomes or even achieve most companies’ overall objectives. Typically, they work mainly to satisfy compliance; to tick boxes that show processes are in place for identifying and then correcting issues.

The problem is that a verification plan, alone, is essentially reactive. It assesses and collects data on what your staff know, what they have done, and what incidents have occurred, thereby helping to show how your company is generally performing – which is all well and good. But this form of verification only responds to deficits in staff competence after the effects of those deficits have been at work for some time, which have been affecting individual performance and – cumulatively – the overall performance of your company.

In other words, a verification plan only reacts to what has happened and what is happening. It does not – in and of itself – steer your company towards what you want to happen, before it actually does.

The solution
In stark contrast to this, a verification strategy takes a proactive approach. Instead of asking the question, ‘How well are you (the individual members of staff) performing?’ it starts by posing the more fundamental and valuable question, ‘How well do we (collectively as a company) want to be performing?’

All railway operators, I am sure you would agree, want their company performance to achieve similar goals: the common focus is generally on increasing safety, efficiency, retention and morale, while at the same time working to reduce risk, incidents, inefficiencies and cost. To name but a few.

Having the right verification strategy in place advances all of those goals more quickly, more measurably, and more cost-effectively.

The good news: you already have the tools to do this. Because you already have a verification plan in place. This means your company has the platform, the tools and the data needed to achieve your overall objectives. Once focused on a strategy of what you want to achieve and how to achieve it, your plan can then steer your staff towards the knowledge they need to increase
their confidence in their competence, change and improve their behaviours and measurably advance your company towards achieving its overall safety and performance objectives.

All you need is that verification strategy in place to inform, optimise and direct your plan – before the shortcomings are revealed.

And the other good news is that developing and implementing a verification strategy is far more straightforward than you might think.

The benefits of a verification strategy are immediate
The benefits of setting up a verification strategy are clear to see, very soon after it is in place. Your managers will immediately have a better understanding of the data collected and what needs to happen next to move forward, as there is a clear process in place. Alongside this, it empowers staff so they, as professionals, have some control over their development and are aware of the requirements that are being put upon them. The old saying, ‘knowledge is power’ is particularly important when attempting to develop a safer railway through regular verification of staff’s qualification and competencies.

Network Rail outlined their ten-year plan in GB Rail Network Operating Strategy 2020-2030 document, ‘To deliver a high-performing railway a successful operations function relies on the right people in the right roles with the right training and competence management processes. This delivers higher standards of personal and professional development, better performance, and greater retention of operational talent.’ This should be considered the gold standard for all railway companies, where high standards and staff skills are at the heart of the business model. It is essential that there is emphasis put upon training and upskilling staff to ensure there is good staff retention, and that the team is highly skilled, and the use of a verification strategy enables training needs to be identified alongside where skills need to be refreshed and reassessed.

Implementing a verification cycle
A verification strategy works in a cycle. There are five key stages and it is easy to move through the feedback loop once your strategy has been defined and set up – with clear time boundaries.

Soon, this verification strategy simply becomes an active part of your company’s operating strategy, as opposed to a passive standalone document that you hope people will actually read.

Below is an example of just such a cycle that we are all familiar with already to implement a verification strategy. The key difference here is that training happens before it’s needed rather than after gaps in competence have been uncovered – at worse, discovered the hard way after an actual incident.

You can see how a verification strategy uses the invaluable data you gather through your verification plan to support and influence your company’s aims – and eventually help ensure standardisation across the entire network operation.

A large part of the data collected via your verification strategy can be obtained through assessment – checking the competence levels of employees and the competency of assessors’ marking, and then using that information to identify, implement and track the changes that are needed as part of an ongoing monitoring cycle.

In this way, a verification strategy ensures a more robust monitoring, which can help to identify weaknesses in the system and which uses the knowledge gathered to develop appropriate and targeted training, along with other means of support that lead to your desired business improvements.

Then, and only then, from your verification strategy can your verification plan be developed. This is informed entirely from the strategy to ensure your objectives are carried out and that your business aims and objectives reach their full potential.

The proof is in the proactivity
One recent example of a verification strategy being successfully rolled out is for Arriva Rail London by Operations Development Manager, Ryan Dearlove, who worked in partnership with AssessTech to design and implement the thinking. Having undertaken additional training in the form of a Lead IQA award, Ryan felt empowered to undertake the job of developing this strategy for his company, with the guidance and support of AssessTech.

See how easily you can go from a reactive plan to a proactive strategy
Contact AssessTech today for a review of your current verification system to see where and how training and consultancy could help you quickly and cost-effectively introduce and implement a proactive strategy that will transform the effectiveness of your plan – and accelerate your operations for a safer and more successful railway

Tel: 01483 338646.
Email: info@assesstech.com
Visit: www.assesstech.com