Claire Peers, NTS.

Marking the importance of women in rail

To continue to mark the importance of International Women’s Day, RFG is celebrating women in rail with a series of guest articles from Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS) which take a closer look at those championing the role and opportunities of women in the rail freight sector. In the third of the series, Claire Peers, NTS’s Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Director, discusses the importance of health and safety culture with organisational performance.

I’ve had the privilege of working in several sectors during my career; in a new post people can be concerned that your lack of specific industry knowledge will bring untold risk from your blind spots. Whilst that’s a potential issue, providing you are aware and prepared to put in some hard work, it’s not insurmountable. What breadth of experience does bring, is a real opportunity to take best practice examples from other industries and see how they might be put into practice elsewhere. Below are some of the industries I’ve been in and some areas of my learning I’ve taken with me into other roles:

  • Construction: Dynamic risk management, multi-discipline and high-turnover workplaces, the importance of design.
  • Petro/chemical: Safety cases, management of change, failure mode and event analysis.
  • Energy generation and distribution: Lone working, public interface risks and inquisitive nature to industry standards.

After joining the rail family at NTS, I found myself revisiting ‘safety culture’. The term was initially coined in 1986 following the Chernobyl incident and in 2009 IOSH conducted a study with the high-hazard industries, confirming a correlation between performance and safety culture, but then and still today, there is no magic bullet to what performance metrics drive and improve culture or vice versa. However, there are two key factors I’ve taken with me throughout my career that have had the biggest impact on improving culture and performance: If it matters to your boss, it will matter to you. Top-down approaches are often the first considered, but the effect a leader has should not be ignored. A leader who starts a meeting enquiring about incidents or audit actions is one who sets a clear tone – this matters to me.

It can be hard to hold people to account without creating an environment of blame. I prefer to use the word ‘curiosity’ – enquire with curiosity and you shouldn’t go wrong. A genuine curious enquiry will permeate through your organisation. Gone will be the dull days of “does anyone have a safety share?” job done-type mentality. People will come prepared and expecting to talk about what they are doing to manage health and safety. People with the most operationally-focused roles are those who are exposed to the greatest risk; those same people will help you solve the practical problems. You need to have them engaged. Obviously, information, training and supervision are constituent components of this, but people need to feel and see the power of themselves. This can seem daunting and where do you begin to implement this? In our organisation we’re working with our safety rep community, giving them the tools and forums to start generating ideas for change.

It’s early days, but I really have great hope they will make and help drive change and support in being the advocates for active participation in the future. Considering the role we all play in the safe operation and culture of an organisation, it’s key we continue to champion the likes of International Women’s Day. Not only is it vital in raising awareness and maintaining a steady drumbeat of change, but it’s also days such as this that shed light on the crucial work and roles undertaken by women to help make organisations better – and safer – places to be.

We all spend a huge proportion of our lives at work so it’s vital that they are safe and happy places to be part of. In addition to that, I truly hope that the extra awareness from the likes of International Women’s Day plays some part in exciting and inspiring the next generation of workforce who will make our workplaces even safer in the future.