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Transport & Logistics

Collaboration and communication key to continuous improvement in rail safety

5 Jun 2013, by Informa Insights

Rail Safety 2013 brought together national decision-makers with the aim of delivering new ideas and developing innovative and progressive ways to meet customer expectations of safety. The customer, be they a passenger, a freight customer or a maintenance supplier, is at the centre of everything we do as an industry. We have summarised some of the key issues industry thought leaders discussed at the event.

Collaboration and communication is central to the rail industry’s drive to improve rail safety and we would like to thank all our speakers, supporters and attendees of the Rail Safety 2013 conference for contributing to thought-provoking discussions.


Sharing information and best practice

The themes of sharing information and best practice where highlighted throughout the three days starting with Stan Sexton, PTA WA who chaired the opening keynote session.  Stan passionately highlighted the importance of a “hearts and minds” campaign. Communication is also key to improving safety risk and Kevin Taylor, RISSB provided an update on RISSB’s rail safety standards development and the drive towards a national database. It was valuable to consider the Australasian industry’s priorities and challenges and learn from the experiences of international rail agencies.

Colin Dennis, RSSB provided a brief history of how the rail industry in Great Britain had arrived at today’s risk management approach and highlighted the benefits of developing continuous improvement and turning data into risk based cost effective safety decisions.

Rush hour at MTR Hong Kong
Rush hour at MTR Hong Kong

Nelson Ng, MTR Corporation, offered an enthusiastic overview of the initiatives and safety culture in Hong Kong – a network that carries 4.9million passengers every weekday. From implementing a learning and innovation culture, shaping passenger behaviour and promoting hazard and near miss reporting, it was clear why MTR has a world-leading safety performance.

“Strong partnerships assist incident management” and Tony Pearce, Victorian Department of Transport detailed the Victorian Government emergency management reform program. He highlighted both the community expectation of a safe and secure public transport system and the economic benefits of resilient public transport.

Chaired by Brian McNaught, SCT Logistics, the second day of the conference set the scene for the rail industry’s safety priorities by focusing on OH&S issues across the Australia. Dr Yossi Berger, formerly of the AWU, polarised the audience with his provoking views that safety should go beyond the view of just considering working hours fatigue and consider the implications of “f**k wit fatigue”.

How can the industry prepare for Black Swan events?

A “Black Swan event” is a concept the audience seemed quicker to adopt. It was detailed by Captain Steve Pelecanos, Australian Maritime Pilots. From the sinking of the Titanic to the GFC, Black Swan theory suggests it’s naïve to make predictions on the basis of the past and Steve took us on a journey through the neural pathways to explain how the Australian Maritime Pilots were incorporating “black swan” training into their safety management regimes.

The Queensland Floods were a ‘black swan event’ and Christopher Druery, Energex discussed how the organisation functioned in a timely and proactive manner to recover while ensuring legislative and operational compliance.  Energex received 170,000 calls to its call centre and communication was essential for both customers and in engagement with staff and recovery crews.

Lincoln Elridge, SAFEmap Australasia offered an alternate view of the role of human factors. His discussion of the precursors to serious incidents highlighted the need to prevent “barriers of secrecy” within organisations.

Dr Jeff Potter, NTC continued with a review of the policy framework for the development and maintenance of the new national rail safety laws before Rob Andrews, ONRSR discussed the challenges of consistency with the new laws. Rob highlighted that the “transition in regulation does not mean that we can be complacent about rail safety risk” and pointed to recent safety incidents as a reminder “there is still a lot of work to be done”. He introduced the ONRSR project team to the stage and encouraged industry to take an active role in the next steps ahead.

Aidan Nelson, Community Safety Partnerships followed up on his earlier discussion (at the preceding level crossing workshop) with a detailed review of the level crossing safety data from around the world. Aidan’s talk reinforced the need for greater collaboration and highlighted the “five Es: Enabling, Engineering, Education, Enforcement and Evaluation”.

Richard Coleman, Asciano and Dean Sporn, Leighton Contractors provided insights from within the Australian rail industry before the CEO panel session discussed a number of common themes.

Featuring CEOs from across the ‘customer spectrum’ with the regulator, operators, contractors and industry bodies, the session typified the changing dynamics within the industry. Discussion had evolved from the ‘old story’ of being overly regulated to debates on leadership, team work, hazard identification, safety culture and the recognised importance of greater collaboration.

This collaboration was on display at the Rail Safety 2013 Dinner which marked the official launch of the ARA’s Rail Industry Worker program. The Rail Industry Worker program is a competence management system that aims to establish a cohesive, national approach to competency management for contractors working in rail so that as an industry rail minimises the risk of untrained personnel working on the network. Proudly sponsored by Leighton Contractors, the dinner again proved the perfect occasion to network and catch up with peers.

Rail safety week
Rail safety week

Rail Safety conference gaining importance for professional development

Paul Dojcsak, Downer Australia set the scene for the third day by reflecting that, “it will not be long now before this conference will be part of the body of knowledge and used to gain professional development recognition”.  Andy Nicol, Opus Rail offered a look into the future with an update on the development of the draft interoperability standard and the potential for our control systems to operate with each other. Naomi Frauenfelder, TrackSAFE Foundation provided an update on the great work TrackSAFE is doing to save lives. As Noami reminded us, “Doing nothing is no longer an option” and every rail employee “deserves to go to work, do their job and return home safely”.

Her update on level crossing safety and suicide prevention provided a backdrop to the Safety Managers’ Group discussion on what was keeping them awake at night. Facilitated by Dale Budd, RISSB Development Advisory Board, the discussion highlighted the issues the industry is currently dealing with from risk to training and the need to embrace best practice.

It was fitting after three days of talk on teamwork, leadership and risk management that Rail Safety 2013 concluded with a guest talk from adventurers Justin Jones & James Castrission. The Aussie explorers’ inspiring and honest retelling of their expeditions highlighted safety anecdotes learnt through a life of extreme adventure and had the audience wondering what their next adventure would be.

As for the rail industry, we look forward to a safe year ahead and seeing you at the Rail Safety 2014 conference in Sydney!

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