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Occupational Health & Safety | Technology | Transport & Logistics

The safety program making significant savings for Downer Group

11 Apr 2024, by Amy Sarcevic

Since becoming Head of HSEQ for Downer Group, Nick Mountford – who investigated the 2003 Waterfall train incident and played a pivotal role in establishing the ITSRR – has taken a zero-tolerance approach towards rail safety.

His recently implemented Rail Safety Improvement Program has already seen incidents nosedive from 23 in the 2020-21 financial year, to just three in the last twelve months. With the average yard derailment costing around $200,000, the program has saved the organisation a significant amount in asset damage.

Ahead of the RISSB Rail Safety Conference, Mr Mountford talks to Informa about his approach.

An organisation-wide focus

From drivers, to shunters, to yard masters, representatives from across the organisation have participated in the program.

“Each team has put forward safety suggestions and, from these, we have cherry picked those with the highest expected impact,” Mr Mountford said.

From there, Downer Group has formed a safety initiative for each suggestion, with a dedicated lead in charge of each initiative.

It has also formed a rail safety steering committee, consisting of operations managers, several zero-harm managers, and an Executive General Manager.

“This team has kept track of what’s been happening and continuously fed back to our rail safety workers on the initiatives and progress on actions as well as other safety improvements.”

Independent review

Adding weight to this employee-led review, Downer commissioned an independent consultant to inspect each of its sites.

“The consultant was escorted around the sites by a driver/shunter from the business, who has since been appointed as a mentor and coach, undertaking regular reviews of onsite activities.

“She has built up really good relationships with drivers and shunters, and this has been an important piece for our organisation’s safety culture,” Mr Mountford said.

Safety maturity assessment

Adding a further layer of rigour to its safety protocol, Downer then surveyed employees on their perceptions of the company’s safety prowess, borrowing an approach from the ONRSR.

“With their [ONRSR’s] permission, we asked our team around 30 safety-related questions, to help quantify our existing safety level.

“We sent the survey out to specific groups in our business – senior leaders, operations managers, facilities managers, zero harm professionals, supervisors and team leads etc.”

Overall, the organisation ranked high, with just a small gap in scores between senior leaders and onsite staff.

“This was an important finding and we’ll be looking to close that gap with further safety initiatives and continued involvement of our workforce.”

A fresh look at training

Complementing these efforts, Downer Group has recently undertaken a safety behaviours training program with its front-line leaders.

“The feedback from these has been excellent and our intention is to conduct them across all sites.”

Meanwhile, improvements in its training and communication with apprentices has already seen significant safety benefits.

New technologies

Alongside work to strengthen its governance framework, Downer has been exploring the use of technologies, such as train-cleaning robots, to eliminate safety risks for workers.

“These types of innovations will help us remove manual tasks that are prone to human error in a seamless way.

“The goal is to automate high risk and labour-intensive inspection, whilst increasing quality, accuracy and safety.”

Further insight

Talking more about these and its broader safety improvement approach, Nick Mountford will present at the upcoming RISSB Rail Safety Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

Following the conference, attendees will enjoy a guided tour of Downer’s Pakenham East Depot on 2 May. The 118-hectare site is the largest, most technologically advanced and sustainable train maintenance facility in Australia, and possibly the world.

Built by Downer using 90% local content and recognised for sustainable and environmental excellence in 2022, the Pakenham East Depot is where testing and maintenance occurs for Melbourne’s bigger, better High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMT).

The conference will be held 30 April – 1 May at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne.

Learn more and register here.

About Nick Mountford

Nick has been involved in the Australian Rail and Transport industry for nearly 25 years, the last 2 and a half years as the Head of HSEQ at Downer Rail.

Nick has been involved in many landmark events, including investigations for the 2003 Waterfall train incident and establishment of the Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator.

He was also involved in the Australian National Rules Project, the Transport for NSW Safety management system and, more recently, was Safety Lead for the Transport for NSW Covid taskforce.

About Downer Group

Downer is the leading provider of integrated infrastructure services across Australia and New Zealand.

It is committed to helping communities thrive and shaping a connected and sustainable future.

Downer currently employs 32,000 people and operates across five sector-focused, trans-Tasman business units.

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