Circle Insights

Technology and its impact on risk in the rail industry

How technology is enhancing safety for rail workers at organisations like Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL)

Ollie Watson

How technology is enhancing safety for rail workers at organisations like Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL)

Whilst the UK is in the enviable position of having one of the safest rail networks in the world, that’s not to say that things couldn’t be improved upon. Technology is playing a major role in advancing safety standards and enhancing safety for the rail network’s workforce and passengers. This case study looks at how Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL) are utilising CACI’s Cygnum software to support their efforts in managing the training and competency of their workforce.

Beyond the immediate safety of the workforce, enhancements in training and competency management serve to reduce overarching risk. Risk takes on many forms in the rail industry. Mistakes can lead to health and safety incidents; they can also result in service disruption and delayed projects. If staff aren’t appropriately trained, mistakes are more likely to occur. If staff aren’t assessed, there’s no knowledge and reporting on frontline delivery.

Capturing data and appropriately acting upon it is vital to a successful training and competency management framework. Being able to schedule training and assessments effectively and efficiently, whilst also being able to capture outcomes in real-time, helps organisations to maintain core competencies across their workforce and provide opportunities for career progression, an expansion in the available pool of skills and also the opportunity for re-training and mandatory ongoing training where necessary.

Training management

Training management takes many guises within an organisation such as Network Rail, which has a workforce of over 48,000 people. From mandatory ongoing training courses to more advanced, career progressing initiatives, Network Rail caters for its workforce with the provision of thousands of courses every year across 11 national training centres.

Running this process efficiently is paramount in achieving the desired training outcomes. Where manual processes are involved in inviting staff to mandatory sessions and checking that they have attended, mistakes inevitably creep in. This can result in staff attending the wrong courses, being sent to the wrong location or not attending.

Implementing a technology system can help to alleviate such issues, with automated checking of course prerequisites, auto-booking of staff to mandatory courses at defined intervals, auto-logging attendance on the day (plus any results that are required) and creating efficiency and consistency across the process. This leaves the more manual aspects to exceptions and more complex arrangements.

Furthermore, a robust training management programme enables organisations to diversify and enhance the range of skills available to them within their existing workforce. If places on courses are free, then they can be offered out to the wider workforce. This improves efficiency by helping to keep courses full. Making best use of available training resources by ensuring that courses are run to capacity and any vacant spaces are offered to interested employees who would benefit from the training opportunity, continuously enhances the core competencies and career opportunities available to your workforce.

Each training course costs money to run, from the trainer, the time taken by the employee and the room and facilities used. Finding a way of maximising the results of this expenditure is crucial. With improved visibility of class utilisation via Cygnum, Network Rail can offer out vacant course places to the wider rail industry, thereby supporting other organisations in their training needs and helping to support the wider safety standards of the rail industry.

Competency management

Closely linked to training is competency management. TfL utilises Cygnum to support the ongoing competency management of its 4,500+ Underground drivers. At a basic level, competency management is ensuring that staff are competent to perform their roles. For example that they are appropriately trained and qualified for the tasks they are undertaking. Beyond that, competency management helps organisations to understand the skills at their disposal across their workforce.

It also ties into training where mandatory ongoing training is required to maintain competence for a role. For train drivers, this includes basic aspects such as eyesight checks. It also establishes the triggering of mandatory training where mistakes have been made out in the field. Similarly to Network Rail, TfL can then schedule training at the point of a result being logged. This ensures that all drivers have access to relevant and necessary training to ensure ongoing competence.

To further have assurance on driver competency, TfL carries out ‘on the job’ staff assessments. These are scheduled by Cygnum automatically based on business rules and the driver’s duty rota. Both the assessor and driver are notified instantly. This reduces the manual effort in arranging assessments, making the process more efficient.

When an assessor assesses a driver, they can capture the outcomes on their mobile device via Cygnum’s mobile app, Cygnum Mobile. Results are uploaded to the Cygnum database and any follow up activities are automatically triggered as a result. Cygnum Mobile also includes offline data capture capability, to mitigate poor mobile reception when operating underground.

Improving workforce safety and reducing risk

By running robust training and competency management programmes, Network Rail and TfL are better positioned to monitor the skills of their workforce and ensure that appropriately trained and competent personnel are operating their services. This further helps them to monitor the safety of their networks by ensuring that all operators are compliant with industry safety standards.

Of course, no system can eradicate human error, but technology can help in prioritising workforce safety whilst at the same time encouraging career progression and the expansion of available skills within the workforce. Where the workforce is trained and regularly assessed, incidents can be kept to a minimum and when they do occur, understanding why is made easier. This is because the competencies, training, skills and experience of those involved can be quickly understood in reporting on incidents.

Having a complete picture of skills, experience and the results of regular assessments also supports administrative and scheduling staff and accurately and fairly assigning tasks to appropriate members of the workforce. Having a central view of core competencies set against bespoke business rules facilitates a degree of automation in scheduling, which reduces manual effort, improves accuracy and makes it easier to handle exceptions. Creating a central view of staff skills enhances workforce safety and reduces risk, since it reduces the likelihood of staff being assigned to tasks to which they’re not suitable for.

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Ollie Watson