Speak Up and Stay Safe

07 May 2020

Susan Gray, stakeholder manager of CIRAS – the Confidential Incident Reporting & Analysis System for workers on the permanent way, and a subsidiary of the Rail Safety & Standards Board – explains how you can report any concerns you have about safety on the network.


ASLEF members are in a better position than most to spot when things are unsafe on our railways. Out on the network, day in, day out, you're the 'eyes and ears' of the railway. No safety team, however good, can boast that kind of coverage.


But if you saw something unsafe, would you speak up? Surely the answer is 'Yes, of course,' every time. And, in a perfect world, it would be. But, as history shows, we don't live in a perfect world.


Take the Ladbroke Grove crash in 1999 when 31 people died and 417 were injured. Pam Warren, campaigner and survivor, puts it nicely. 'Nobody had woken up that morning in the industry and said: "I know what, I'm going to go into work today and I'm going to cause this to happen." Nobody does that. However, it happened, because enough people within the industry had seen something and thought "Oh, that's too tiny, I won't bother with that" or "That's somebody else's problem".'


It's usually best to report your health and safety concerns directly to your employer – if you can. But maybe you're not comfortable with that, or you've tried it, and got nowhere in the past.


Speaking up when you see something unsafe can be harder than you think. You're new to the team, and you don't want to look daft. The person behaving unsafely is your best mate. You don't get on with your line manager. You've raised it before and nothing happened, so what's the point of speaking up again? It happens.  


So what can you do?

You can speak to your ASLEF health & safety rep. He or she will listen and champion your cause for you. Or you could contact CIRAS where your health and safety concern will be reported, in complete confidence, and nobody needs to know you've raised anything at all.  


There's no right or wrong answer here. CIRAS simply offers the option of confidentiality if you would prefer that. And, if you're an ASLEF rep reading this, then please remember that CIRAS is a tool in your armoury, too. If a member comes to you wanting to report a health and safety concern but would rather nobody else knew, you can suggest they use CIRAS to ensure their concern is heard in complete confidence.   


Does it work?

We know you're using CIRAS – one quarter of our reports come from train drivers who raise concerns about many things – from rules not being followed to fatigue and staffing levels.


But does reporting something through CIRAS make any difference? Well, last year, three-quarters of all CIRAS reports led to at least one positive action, including things like staff briefings or training, new or repaired equipment, and changes to rotas.


And, so far this year, 82% of people who made a report through CIRAS said they would use CIRAS again.


CIRAS in action

A train driver contacted CIRAS to say 'I am worried about feeling fatigued and distracted at work'. This was caused by a heavy workload, and communications issues at the depot. CIRAS sent a report to the train company to investigate. The company hired more staff and introduced a single point of contact to improve communications. The train driver was happy that this would help other drivers concentrate better and reduce the risk of safety incidents.


Another train driver contacted CIRAS to say 'I am worried about broken screens at a station, making it difficult to see passengers on the platform'. CIRAS sent this report to Network Rail, who investigated, and fixed the screens. NR also said it is planning to upgrade the screens soon. The train driver was happy they could see the platform better and so there was less risk of a passenger injury.


What happens when you contact CIRAS?

A member of the team will arrange a suitable time for a telephone conversation to give you the chance to share what's worrying you in a complete confidence. And that's it – we will do the rest. CIRAS will write up the report, making sure there's nothing in there that could identify you; send a report to the company, giving it the information it needs to investigate and decide what to do; keep in touch with the company to make sure it responds in a timely way; send you a copy of the full response to give you a chance to say if you're happy with it.


Think CIRAS could help you?

Contact CIRAS by calling 0800 4101 101 or by clicking the 'Report a concern' button on the website at ciras.org.uk


This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of the ASLEF Journal. 

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