Why train companies should listen to concerns of railway staff

16 November 2017

This article by ELLEN MELLINGTON, interim head of CIRAS, the confidential incident reporting and analysis service, features in the ASLEF Journal December 2017.

Much of what we do at Confidential Reporting for Safety is about listening, without judgement, to the health and safety concerns of people in safety-critical roles.

Health and safety reports typically arrive at CIRAS carrying a level of dissatisfaction with previous responses. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 workers in the UK transport industry, 43% said that when they reported a safety concern they did not get good feedback. 

CIRASI spoke to an operator who no longer felt like speaking up in the workplace. He had seen a decade of industry change resulting in lower wages and felt his status as a respected member of the workforce had been diminished. Once he had vented his long-standing frustration, he began to talk more freely about some of the genuine health and safety issues he had concerns about.

He held a perception that raising a concern internally wouldn’t make any difference. Whether this perception was true or not, it contributed to a feeling of disengagement at work. He felt he was primarily there to drive, but that his concerns for safety would fall on deaf ears.

Listening always plays a pivotal role in establishing a good health and safety culture. If there is a listening deficit, either at a personal or organisational level, it is likely to negatively impact on the organisation. Authentic listening, where both managers and employees can express themselves freely, is hard to achieve in practice. It requires both parties to put aside their agendas and really focus on what the other is trying to say.

Listening more authentically is likely to lead to far fewer health and safety concerns remaining unaddressed. But this only works if managers respond empathically and act on the information entrusted to them at an early stage. Training managers with the right interpersonal skills to listen more effectively can therefore play an important role in ensuring concerns are not stymied.

Confidential reporting has an important role to play. Of course, there is normally less of a need to report a concern confidentially if individuals feel listened to in their own organisations. In an ideal world, confidential reporting would not be necessary. But if the listening breaks down somewhere, or a listening culture isn’t present, confidential reporting can bridge the divide.

The tips below can help foster a better listening environment:

  • Avoid giving advice.
  • Sit with them in their cave.
  • Be a calm presence.
  • Learn the art of silence.
  • Allow anger to be heard.
  • Encourage dialogue on mental health.

You can contact CIRAS by phone (0203 142 5369); by post (Freepost CIRAS); or visit the website (www.ciras.org.uk). The report hotline is 0800 410 1101 and the report textline is 07507 285887.

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