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Health and safety on track

Health and safety experts from across some of the railway industry’s biggest companies came together recently to talk about how they could cut the millions of pounds and hours lost each year because of work-related ill health.

Getting the health of the organisation right’ kicked off the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Railway Group’s 2011 Roadshow at York’s National Railway Museum last Wednesday (2 March). During the event, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) revealed its Health Programme 2010 to 2014, with a vision change the industry’s culture of poor attitudes to health.

Santia’s operations manager Jaki Leaker spoke about the business sense of wellbeing and health policies, while Alstom UK occupational health and wellbeing manager Claire Sallis, revealed her groundbreaking strategy for the company. Railway Group chair Iain Ferguson said: “Overall the industry is really good at improving safety, but on the whole the health side gets ignored. As a Group we want to see a culture change from the top down in every rail company, recognising the importance of managing mental and physical health issues in the workplace.”

“We have heard some fantastic best practice examples and options of how delegates can raise the profile of health in their own business. After all, a worker that feels valued and believes they have a support system behind them to make sure they are coping with workloads performs better. And that’s good for businesses, staff and the passengers we serve.” During his talk, John Gillespie, HM inspector of railways and head of human factors and operational support, discussed the ORR Health Programme, which encourages leadership on health, better awareness of the legal duty an employer has to protect its staff, and information on how managers can better help their employees.

He explained how Inspectors had confirmed that there were various health risks across the railway industry. These include musculoskeletal disorders, stress, cardiovascular diseases, vibration, noise, hazardous substances, lead, asbestos and microbiological hazards. He said: “Occupational health is often left to the human resources departments. We want to bring it back into the jobs of line managers who take time to look after the health of their staff, as that’s where it belongs.”

In making its case for better health management, ORR undertook a baseline survey across rail companies to measure the state of occupational health in the industry. The results will soon be published on ORR’s website, and early indications are that there are significant costs from employer’s liability claims and working hours lost. Jaki Leaker said: “The Government’s recently strategy on health and wellbeing is seeking to improve things for the working population, by intervening upon issues early before they result in costly sickness absence for the employer and employee.”

“Businesses are in a unique position to educate and motivate their employees to manage their own fitness and wellbeing. If change comes from the top down, they’ll have a better ran business with happy staff,” she added. Claire Sallis, who has developed Alstom’s system, said that the staff with the best health and wellbeing were those who were mentally challenged, and had physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. She said: “Health and wellbeing needs to be embedded at the core of every railway business. Employees then feel satisfied and communicated with, they are more confident in their role and they are able to maintain productivity. In the process, customers are satisfied and the company bolsters its bottom line.” “Line managers need to be trained to recognise where their teams could be suffering and to deal with the issues early. By doing this at Alstom, we’re improving performances and supporting people’s work/life balance.” During the day delegates were also given a tour of the museum and the adjacent Siemens Depot.

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