The Key to Maintenance Depot Safety
The risks that rail maintenance staff face during their day-to-day work are undeniable; high-speed vehicles, high-voltage electricity and powerful machinery combine to make modern depots potentially deadly places to work.
This is further compounded by the growing number of vehicles on the network, putting increasing pressure on operators, and a desire to achieve ‘pitstop style’ servicing.
With existing facilities having finite space and with greater through-put being required, an increasing amount of work is being carried out in non-traditional areas such as stabling roads. It is becoming commonplace for cleaning, fuelling, sanding, CET and even minor maintenance activities to be carried out on stabling roads. When these tracks were designed and built, they were never intended to be used in such a way and as a result, little or no protection is typically offered to staff working on them.
Time for Change
A culture change is required if the rail sector is to achieve operational through-put, whilst keeping the risk to staff as low as is reasonably possible. To begin, we must alter legacy attitudes to safety measures.
Whilst “there has been no sustained change in the number of recorded near-miss events involving rail workers over the last five years,” according to the RSSB Annual Health and Safety Report 2019/20, it continues: “although train operators input depot accidents to SMIS, other organisations that carry out train care and maintenance do not. This means the industry does not currently have a complete picture of depot risk.” In order for the risks to staff at maintenance depots to be fully addressed, they must first be accurately reported.
When we consider that the real harm numbers for depots are likely to be much higher than recorded, it is clear that changes need to be made.
Safety by Design
The only way we can reduce harm to staff is to design safety into depots at the earliest opportunity and acknowledge the changing maintenance environment, such as work being conducted on stabling roads.
It is essential that new build facilities and modernisation projects consider the risks to staff at the design stage and look to integrate available technologies, such as Zonegreen’s market-leading Depot Personnel Protection System (DPPS).
The planned implementation of technologies such as DPPS, brings the concept of safety by design to depots. Network Rail defines safety by design as “[controlling] health and safety risks in infrastructure, rolling stock, equipment and processes by early consideration of potential risks and dealing with those risks at the design stage.”
However, all too often new works or modifications fail to take simple steps to avoid potential hazards. The RSSB identified the top three underlying causes of near misses as ‘decision error’, a ‘slip or lapse’ and ‘verbal communications’.
Whereas traditional depot safety relies on paper permits and manual systems that could be misinterpreted or applied incorrectly, DPPS uses intuitive technology to automate safety and remove the human element. It physically eliminates the risks posed by SPADs, overhead lines and high-powered equipment, making it easy to set up safe areas in which to work, where it is impossible for staff to be harmed by decision errors or lapses in communication.
RFID tags identify when an individual is working on a maintenance road, whilst powered derailers protect them from unexpected train movements.
The system also incorporates klaxons and beacons to provide audible and visual warnings of moving vehicles.
The RSSB Health and Safety Report 2019/20 concluded: “Britain’s railways rely on a mix of Victorian engineering and new technology – with everything else in between. Each poses its own challenges. The old infrastructure was built to last. It has done so for over a hundred years, but for how much longer unaided?”
Thankfully, help is at hand. Each DPPS system is designed specifically to meet the individual needs of the depot and its function. It is flexible and future-proofed, enabling it to adapt to the changing maintenance landscape; it can be interlocked with signalling systems and existing third-party equipment such as wheel lathes.