What happens in the event of a significant accident either in the workplace or as part of operational activities? When people suffer grave injuries, or worse, when they die? Although it may be an organisation that may ultimately be responsible for any harm or tragic deaths, in reality it’s an individual who can find themselves in court – whether civil, criminal or the coroner’s court. Of course, if an incident causes injury or death then that is the real tragedy, but the consequences are far-reaching, and can impact on both companies and individuals for some painful, long time. Many individuals are unaware of how adversarial the court system is or how, even in an inquisitorial forum such as the coroner’s court, the questioning can take its toll. The court processes can induce prolonged stress and uncertainty for the individuals involved, the company and its leaders.

Those working in the rail industry are potentially at risk of finding themselves as a witness in the civil or criminal courts, or at an inquest. An individual might even be a Defendant in a criminal case, for example. Employees may be required to submit evidence, be questioned, and answer for their safety policies and practices and their safety-related actions and decisions.

The Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974, states that an employer has a duty to ensure ‘so far as is reasonably practicable,’ the health, safety, and welfare at work of all employees and others who might be impacted by their activities. The law expects us to do what is right and to be as safe as possible. There is also a duty on individual employees to take reasonable care for their own safety and that of others.

It’s therefore crucial for those in positions of leadership and employees to take appropriate measures to identify and mitigate any potential risks and be able to account for safe working practices, behaviours, and all safety-related, decisions made.

So, to help organisations review, test, and generate actionable improvements to their safety leadership and safety performance in the workplace, the OPC and Skilful Conversation have launched a new workshop – Accelerate Your Safety Leadership.


The New Accelerate Your Safety Leadership workshop

This unique, tried-and-tested workshop has been piloted with a national organisation. By the end of 2023, nearly 200 delegates will have taken part. The workshop is run and facilitated by experts.

The OPC has over thirty years of experience in the rail and transport sector, worldwide. Their psychologists have extensive experience in safety culture, safety leadership and the recruitment and development of employees in safety-critical roles. They have a special interest in why rail employees make errors and are involved in safety incidents. Working alongside clients, their aim is to help organisations, and their people improve safety performance.

Cath Brown of Skilful Conversation is a barrister (non-practising) with over fifteen years’ experience representing organisations in court. She has represented parties on all sides in all types of cases arising out of death and personal injury. Now turned coach and trainer, she uses her years of experience at the bar and mock cross-examination skills to enable organisations and leaders to scrutinize their safety policies and practices using ‘near-miss’ case studies.

The tried-and-tested workshop enables directors, managers, and frontline employees with safety-critical work or operational responsibilities:

• To critically view their current safety practices from a legal perspective.

• To explore safety culture, behaviours, and leadership at work.

• To experience what giving evidence in a court of law or at an inquiry might look and feel like.

• To help delegates reflect, re-focus, and identify improvements in their safety critical responsibilities, leadership, and safety behaviours operationally.


Exploring a safe culture and safety leadership

As a key foundation for exploring a ‘near-miss’ case study in the mock cross examination role play, OPC psychologists help delegates to reflect on safety culture and what makes a safe leader, identifying what’s important for the delegates as well as sharing the OPC’s knowledge and experience in this field.

Key learning includes how a positive safety culture prioritizes safety at all levels of an organisation. How it involves balanced communication both cascading and upwards through an organisation. Continuous improvement is a feature of a strong safety culture. There’s an openness to safety issues, and a learning rather than blame culture. Employees are encouraged to feel in control of their own safety and that of their colleagues.

A strong safety culture relies on effective safety leadership. A safe leader actively promotes safety, role models it, and motivates employees to maintain high standards. They foster accountability, encourage the reporting of safety concerns, and champion continuous safety improvements. Safety is paramount in decision-making, and a good leader stands firm against commercial or other pressures. Empirical evidence indicates that an organization’s safety culture significantly impacts its performance. The Cullen report (2001) highlighted its importance in response to the Ladbroke Grove disaster. Legal experts now recognize the impact of both safety culture and safety leadership on incidents.

Without exception, everyone is responsible for safety, regardless of their role, and everyone can display safety leadership qualities, contributing to an organisation’s overall safety culture.


More About Safety Law

Despite strong safety culture or great safety leadership in an organisation, unfortunately safety incidents can and do still happen, sometimes causing far-reaching consequences on individuals and companies. Regrettably, it’s easy to find examples of substantial fines levied on rail organisations and successful prosecutions of individuals for breaching health and safety legislation.

Having heard a bit about safety culture and safety leadership, delegates go on to learn about the legal framework, including the different courts, their processes, and how they might find themselves involved, interviewed, or held accountable at an investigation or in a prosecution.


A Courtroom Drama!

Using a bespoke relevant case study, delegates will be immersed in a ‘mock courtroom trial’. Their safety-related policies, practices and record-keeping may be scrutinized. Personal safety leadership and operational decisions may be challenged along with testing the organisation’s safety culture based on a delegates’ understanding and application of them.

Cath Brown, Barrister (non-practising) at Skilful Conversation said: ‘Having previously conducted mock cross-examinations on ‘near-miss’ case studies, I’ve heard concerning admissions of negligible data to show the effectiveness of safety practices; difficulty in articulating risk-mitigation procedures; little or no rationales regarding decisions that could have led to the loss of life, through to a complete lack of understanding of legal responsibility and accountability. This workshop is a vehicle to accelerate, review and improve safety performance. It’s exciting to see ‘lightbulbs go on’ and people really awakened to the legal implications of their safety-related decisions and actions.’

The aim of this immersive workshop is twofold: to provide leaders and frontline employees with an opportunity to identify and analyse any potential gaps or weaknesses in their safety systems, protocols, and procedures; and to develop new strategies to help improve their safety-critical operational behaviours and leadership upon returning to work. This has the potential for a more robust and effective safety culture within the organisation over time. It raises delegate’s consciousness about the degree of scrutiny their actions and decisions could face in the event of a serious safety incident. It improves their grasp of their legal responsibility and the potential consequences of safety failures.


Outcomes from the Workshop

The OPC believes that an individual’s or manager’s safety leadership has a direct impact on their employees’ safety performance and can impact the overall safety culture of an organisation. The workshop provides participants with a safe environment in which they can reflect on their own safety performance practices and their safety leadership strengths or areas of development. Through facilitated open and frank discussions led by OPC psychologists, delegates have the opportunity to consolidate their learning and set action plans for their return to work.

In recent pilot workshops actions have included:

• Highlighting where more rigor may be required in decision-making.

• Prompting the introduction of new or additional safety ‘checks and balances’ in everyday operational duties for themselves or others.

• Leaders may want to adopt a more deliberate approach and provide more detailed justification for key decisions.

• Leaders may feel an added weight of responsibility or the additional strength to be courageous in ‘doing the right thing’.

• Improving safety communications— when work has been stopped or positive messaging as well as internal safety investigation outcomes.

• Some delegates may decide to be more conscientious about taking notes, keeping records.

• Seeking continuous learning opportunities, professional development or a review of the latest safety practices and regulations.


Positive Feedback About the Pilot Workshops

So far, the workshops have been a huge success. 96 per cent of delegates rated them as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very good’. Nearly 80 per cent felt it would help improve workplace safety performance, and 98 per cent said it would help strengthen their personal safety leadership. When asked if it will make a difference, the overwhelming reaction has been a resounding Yes! to having a significant influence.

Delegates have been leaving the workshop with a renewed commitment to safety and new ideas for improving organisational safety performance. This increased emphasis on safety has the potential to create a positive shift in safety culture, with a collective commitment to prioritise the well-being and safety of all.

Dr Steve Fletcher from the OPC concluded ‘With the combined expertise of psychologists and a barrister, delegates are able to understand the psychological and legal aspects of safety in a comprehensive manner. This unique approach ensures that participants are equipped with the necessary tools to help effectively address safety concerns and create a safer work environment for themselves and their teams – thereby having an impact on the organisations’ safety culture. We believe this workshop has the potential to help leaders and operational managers as well as coal face employees to deliver a ‘step-change’ in safety performance.’