Jen Ablitt, Deputy Director Safety Strategy and Policy and Head of the UK Delegation to the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, Office of Rail and Road, UK discusses the relationship between organization culture, management and performance and the value of the IRSC community for sharing learnings.
– Britain’s railways are the safest of the top 10 biggest railway systems in the EU. What are some of the key factors contributing to this safety record?
It’s a record we are proud of, but equally aware that we must never allow our vigilance to drop if we are to maintain that ranking. Perhaps it is useful to ask ‘What are the pillars of strong safety performance on Britain’s railways?’: I would suggest clear responsibilities for managing safety – rail operators and infrastructure managers are clear that they need to understand their business, the risks of their business and make their own decisions about how to manage them. In addition, a maturing sense that everyone wins if the industry collaborates on safety research and standards, even amongst competitors and even if that involves putting in time and money. A genuine commitment to learning lessons and looking for those lessons in uncomfortable places. And in terms of ORR’s contribution, a rigorous focus on safety improvement and the balanced decisions that involves.
– As the regulator, how to strike the balance between avoiding complacency, maintaining constructive unease and recognising and rewarding strengths and achievement?
That’s a great question and I often joke that so much of our job is to find different and interesting ways of providing dire warnings! I think regulators need to make full use of all the levers and tools available, including guidance, education, support and the leadership and incentive that goes along with recognizing excellence, sharing best practice and praising effort and good intention. This industry is made up of people, who almost to a woman want to do a great job and make things better, and reward can be a great motivator. You’ve also got to vary your tone, otherwise you’ve lost your power when what’s needed is real censure and enforcement.
– What are some of areas of risk that still need focus from industry to effect improvements?
It’s difficult to speak for the industry globally, although we share some challenges – talent and competence, digitalization, worker health as well as safety. In Britain, we are focused on the challenges of supporting our people, through some real performance and capacity pressure on the system, as well as a huge introduction of new and innovative technology.
– The ORR recently updated its Risk Management Maturity Model. What’s changed and why?
RM3 is the backbone of how we work with the industry to improve safety management. We’ve built on experience of using it since its introduction in 2011, to make the evidence required through the levels of maturity clearer and easier to use. We’ve also combined indicators of positive organizational culture throughout the criteria. I firmly believe that you can have a strong culture without a management system, but you cannot have an excellent management system without a strong supporting culture. I’ll be presenting the revised model at the IRSC 2019 conference and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, other than that I’ll be looking for help with some of the questions we have around the use and future of the tool!
– You’re been involved with the International Railway Safety Council for a few years. Can you briefly describe your involvement and some of the of the highlights of the IRSC’s role and activities?
I’ve been fortunate to attend IRSC in Berlin, Paris and Dublin, all on behalf of the European Union Agency for Railways. What’s unique about this conference is the content is really rich and there is so much to learn, I always come back with ideas and new contacts. It’s also a true community, we need to keep new people and ideas coming in, but the value of an established network is that we’re there to help each other in between conferences. We recently hosted the Korean Railroad Research Institute based on contacts made at the Conference.
– What are you most looking forward to about your visit to Perth for the IRSC2019?
I’ve never been to a Conference outside Europe, so I feel very privileged to be going to Perth! I think the themes this year are really relevant for challenges we’re dealing with. We are finding that safety assurance is a difficult part of safety management to get right. And implementing, and regulating, new technology, particularly software systems, is a challenge for us all. But we have to be ready and open to the benefits of new technology, too!
*This interview was first published by Informa.