We ask the rail safety experts… Part 3


In preparation for this year’s Rail Safety Summit, we sat down with leading figures from the rail safety industry and asked them a series of pressing questions about safety practices within the rail industry.

Today’s question is:

Do we need separate categories for near misses and close calls?


Willie Baker, Emergency Incident Consultant:

What I believe is required are effective and efficient systems and processes that are well managed and audited so that issues are quickly recognised, accurately categorised and promptly remedied. All this should be done in a transparent and accountable way.

The whole arena of systems and process is a significant element of the Post Graduate Certificate in the Management of Passenger Transport Emergency Incidents, and has already attracted a lot of attention.

Systems often do not require any alteration at all, but the staff to whom they apply often need better training!

Seamus Scallon, Safety Director, UK Rail, FirstGroup:

I agree that we should have separate definitions as the data is of vital importance as lead indicators.

Steve Diksa, Assurance Services Director, Bridgeway Consulting:

There is some confusion over near misses and close calls and I believe that over the next few months with further, clearer communications that the terms will be understood by those that need to understand the difference.

Contractors, Trade Unions and Agencies also need to play a positive, active part in the education of the workforce and not leave it all up to Network Rail and RSSB.

The most important thing is that the near misses and close calls are being constantly reported; the trends analysed and acted upon whenever necessary. Whatever data collected and collated, it is no good if we do little or nothing with it.

Catherine Behan, Head of HS&E Capital Programmes, Transport for London:

No.  I feel that it just adds a level of complication.

The important thing is that anything that we don’t want or plan to happen gets reported, investigated and corrective action is put in place to prevent recurrence.

Categorisation has a tendency to lead to pre-determining the nature of the investigation and without the application of thought, could result in high potential incidents receiving less attention than they should.

Jeff ‘Odie’ Espenship, President, Target Leadership:

The real test to this question is to ask yourself:

1) Can I personally define the difference between a near miss and a close call?

2) Does everyone else share the same definition I have, or is it personally subjective?

It is important to keep reporting processes and programs simple and straight forward for everyone. Most employees do not know the difference between a near miss and a close call.

Even Wikipedia defines the terms interchangeably:

A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage, but had the potential to do so. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, fatality or damage; in other words, a miss that was nonetheless very near.

Although the label of ‘human error’ is commonly applied to an initiating event, a faulty process or system invariably permits or compounds the harm, and should be the focus of improvement. Other familiar terms for these events is a ‘close call’, or in the case of moving objects, ‘near collision’.

The bottom line is if you feel adding another category will increase the integrity of your safety system, then it is worth creating a second category. Know that sufficient training to define and standardise the difference between a close call and a near miss will be required.

Steve Enright, Head of Safety and Operational Standards, Southern:

Simplification helps understanding so my view would be that these separate categories may not be necessary.

Dr Liesel Von Metz, HM Inspector of Railways:

Not really – they both reflect a serious incident that nearly happened – a near-hit.

The really  important thing is to support comprehensive reporting of such near-hits and then acting on the results of those reports.

If calling them something which is more meaningful on the front-line helps this reporting and action, I don’t think we should get too hung up over the terminology.

Although it might sound perverse, an increase in reports of such near-hits is actually a positive thing – especially if they reflect the full range of risks on site. It’s when all staff feel confident in reporting near-hits you know your safety culture is heading in the right direction.

Christian Fletcher, Director, Zonegreen:

Near Misses and Close Calls lead to incidents and what we do at Zonegreen is to work with the companies to prevent the incident happening in the first place.

We understand the pressures depot and maintenance staff are under to have the maximum number of rolling stock out on the network but different depots and different Train Operating Companies operate differently.

New build depots tend to have safety built into them whereas the older depots are sometimes working around depots that were built for steam rather than diesel trains.

Tomorrow’s ‘We ask the rail safety experts’ will see our experts answer this question:

Has the profile and hence effectiveness of the Railway Inspectorate been reduced by being subsumed into the Office of Rail Regulation?

To read yesterday’s interview click here

The Rail Safety Summit is taking place on April 19th 2012 in Loughborough.

For more information, please visit www.railsafetysummit.com




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