The RSSB Podcast

Confidential reporting: reducing railway risk

June 29, 2020 RSSB Season 1 Episode 3
The RSSB Podcast
Confidential reporting: reducing railway risk
Chapters
The RSSB Podcast
Confidential reporting: reducing railway risk
Jun 29, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
RSSB

This podcast looks at the part that CIRAS, the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis Service, contributes to the continual improvement of safety management for the railway and other transport systems.

My guest in this episode is Catherine Baker, director of CIRAS.  We talk about how the confidential reporting service works.  She discusses the types of incidents and reasons for calls, and examples of the results that CIRAS achieves.  She also talks about what CIRAS does to maintain confidentiality, and how the service complements an organisation's existing reporting and whistleblowing systems. Show notes with links to more information about CIRAS and its activities are available in the Blogs section of the RSSB website, under The RSSB Podcast series.

Show Notes Transcript

This podcast looks at the part that CIRAS, the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis Service, contributes to the continual improvement of safety management for the railway and other transport systems.

My guest in this episode is Catherine Baker, director of CIRAS.  We talk about how the confidential reporting service works.  She discusses the types of incidents and reasons for calls, and examples of the results that CIRAS achieves.  She also talks about what CIRAS does to maintain confidentiality, and how the service complements an organisation's existing reporting and whistleblowing systems. Show notes with links to more information about CIRAS and its activities are available in the Blogs section of the RSSB website, under The RSSB Podcast series.

May we have your attention please.

Ant Davey
Rail travel is the safest form of land transport in Britain. And the rail industry intends to keep that record. Something we can only do if we work to make continual improvements to our safety systems. I'm Ant Davey from the content team at RSSB. And I'll be talking to Catherine Baker, Director of CIRAS, the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis Service, about how it has been working as an integrated part of the safety management system within the rail sector for over two decades. Catherine, welcome to the RSSB podcast. Please tell our listeners about yourself and how you came to your current role.

Catherine Baker
Thank you Ant. I came to the transport sector from a science background and I've worked for both London Underground and the mainline railway as well as a brief stint in aviation. I've worked through a range of analytical and leadership roles in RSSB over the last 20 years. Then in 2018, I took on the leadership of CIRAS, which is a subsidiary of RSSB.

Ant Davey
So, let's start Catherine, if you will, by explaining to me what you mean by confidential reporting.

Catherine Baker
Let me answer that through two scenarios. First, put yourself in the shoes of a front line staff member. Imagine that you've been assigned to a new work location and the way the people there are working un-nerves you. Some of the working groups have obviously worked together for some time and they seem to shortcut the process for setting up a safe system of work. As a new member of the team, you don't feel comfortable challenging, yet, you are worried that someone could get hurt. And then think through the eyes of a manager. You're faced with investigating an accident where one of your team was unfortunately injured in a large depot. You discover that to avoid a leaking cesspit which was waiting to be fixed, some people had started to use an unsafe walking route. That was where the accident happened. The question spinning through your head is why did nobody say anything? In both these cases, there are barriers to people speaking out. This is where the option to raise an issue confidentially comes in. That way, the staff member, we call them reporters, can have their identity protected. So don't put their head above the parapet, and the company gets to hear about the issue and take action. In an ideal world, everyone would always feel completely confident to take that idea or concern directly. But what we see is that people face real barriers to speaking up, which is why we provide the safety net of a confidential reporting service.

Ant Davey
So that's the theory of confidential reporting. Catherine, how does it work in practice?

Catherine Baker
We're a membership organization and have almost 2000 member companies. Any of their staff can contact us via free phone, web, text or freepost. We listen to any genuine concern or suggestion about health, wellbeing and safety and interview with the reporter by phone to really understand the issue. In an increasingly automated world, we bring a human touch; having the time to listen to a reporter who might be quite emotional about their concern is a really important part of our service. Having stripped out any identifying information, we send the concerns of the company who can then investigate and act. Companies then provide a response to us that we share with the reporter. This closes the loop so that the reporter can see the impact of speaking up, hopefully giving them the confidence to speak up again. We recognize that an issue that one person raises might be relevant to other companies too. So once a report is closed, it's made available to all of our member companies. We work with companies from across the whole of the transport and logistics sector, including both operators and those who build and maintain the infrastructure.

Ant Davey
Thank you, Catherine. That gives us an idea of how things work in practice. Can you tell us what do staff tend to call you about and why?

Catherine Baker
our top topics are Firstly, equipment, particularly where it's perceived to be unsuitable, then health and wellbeing, which includes poor work environments leading to distraction; and also rules and procedures, whether these are unclear and safe or perhaps not being followed. I'll give you some recent examples. We were told about an electrical switch room which was being used for storage, including flammable substances. The company responded positively cleared the location and reviewed the storage arrangements on site. Another reporter called with concerns about workload, staffing levels and fatigue. They were worried this could cause errors that would lead to accidents. In this case, the company undertook a thorough audit all the arrangements and ensured that going forward they had a more robust approach with inbuilt monitoring. Both cases brought about a positive change because somebody chose to speak up. We always ask people why they've called us because this gives us useful insights into the safety culture. Over half of reporters tell us they lack faith in internal channels, but it's also notable that last year 7% of people came because of fears of retribution.

Ant Davey
Companies usually have their own internal reporting channels and sometimes a whistleblowing channel too. So, how is confidential reporting different from these?

Catherine Baker
Anything that can be reported through an internal health safety or wellbeing channel can also be reported through CIRAS. The difference is about which route the staff member feels comfortable using and how they think their issue will be most effectively resolved. But confidential reporting also provides something extra, it can capture leading indicators. For example, if there's no negative outcomes, it's hard to report to your boss that you fell asleep at the wheel or used the wrong tool because you were rushing. We call them recovered mistakes. But you might just report these confidentially if you think it would help tackle the underlying issues. The railways programme of work to reduce road driving risk was born out of leading indicators from CIRAS reports. Whistleblowing is different again, it's usually associated with reporting wrongdoing. Whilst there are legal protections, these don't offer a guarantee that your identity is protected. Whistleblowing is a really important part of the overall reporting system, but it can be a big step for some people. From a company perspective, having a range of channels is a real positive for inclusion. It means everyone has a way to speak up.


Ant Davey
So, what difference does confidential reporting really make?

Catherine Baker
Last year 85% of the reports that we raised with companies lead to some kind of action. That's over 200 improvements to health, wellbeing and safety that otherwise might not have happened. Providing confidential reporting is also a powerful statement to your people, that you really do want to hear what they have to say, that you commit to listening, and responding to their concern. That can help drive a positive shift in the Culture of open reporting. Once staff, have seen evidence that a company responds positively, that should help others have the confidence to speak up.

Ant Davey
Catherine, that confidence to speak up is very important, obviously. How can you guarantee to keep someone's identity protected?

Catherine Baker
Confidentiality is at the heart of our ethos, both in our team but also how we work with our member companies. We have a charter agreed with our members and that contains a commitment to focus on the issue being raised, not on who raised it. We also assess each case so that we never include information in a report that could be traced back to an individual. And importantly, of course, there's the security of our systems and data. The other important aspect of the assurance we provide to both companies and reporters is our independence. Whilst funded by our members, we are governed by an independent CIRAS board. We're part of the RSSB group, which is beneficial in terms of access to shared services and expertise, but we remain financially and operationally separate. We're completely independent of safety regulators too. If a concern's raised through us, it's the responsibility of the company we send it to for them to determine what action to take. We have no enforcement role, nor do we pass concerns on to regulators.

Ant Davey
Hopefully that's allayed some fears about confidentiality. You mentioned earlier that health and well being was one of the primary concerns that's reported. What impact has Covid-19 had on CIRAS?

Catherine Baker
16th of March. That's when we had our first Covid-19 concern from the front line. So, the next five weeks our hotline was very busy. And Covid-19 was all we heard about: social distancing, hygiene, impact of emergency rosters, and so on. The situation was changing rapidly in many of our member organizations. So we made sure that reports were with companies within 24 hours, and that all intelligence from reports across different organizations were shared across members. Our service stayed open all the way through that transition period. What we found also was that many of our members were tackling the challenges in different ways. So we've been running a series of online events where members can share emerging good practice too.

Ant Davey
Thank you, Catherine. The industry continues with your help to try to improve its safety culture. And as it gets better and better, do you think CIRAS will still be necessary?

Catherine Baker
When I took on the leadership of CIRAS, I asked myself that very question. If we're successful in creating an open and just safety culture does the need for confidential reporting goes away? What I've learned over the last couple of years is not yet. I speak to managers who have felt devastated that despite all their efforts to create open doors, incidents have happened about which nobody spoke up. When an individual joins an organization, they bring with a lifetime of baggage about what happens to people when they speak up. Whether from the consequences of trying to do the right thing and tell the truth at school, to seeing colleagues in a previous organization sidelined for raising issues. As organizations build more diverse workforces that range of experience widens, and it's critical, that everyone has some way to speak up.

Ant Davey
Catherine, thank you very much for that insight into the work of CIRAS as part of our safety management system. Can you tell us where our listeners can find out more?

Catherine Baker
You're always welcome to get in touch with the CIRAS team and we would be happy to answer any questions. You can find our contact details on the website at www.ciras.org.uk or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Ant Davey
Catherine, thank you very much for your time and giving us a fascinating insight into confidential reporting, and the safety benefits it delivers, not just for the mainline railway, but for other transport systems as well. All those contact details Catherine mentioned are in the blog for this episode of The RSSB Podcast on the RSSB website. And to you, our audience, thank you for listening. If you have any comments about this podcast, please do email me at podcasts@rssb.co.uk. Until next time, thank you and goodbye.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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