This month, SOCOTEC, formerly ESG, hosted the annual Railway Environmental Forum in both London and Glasgow. Noelyn Allen, business development director, Environment & Safety Services, tells us why the forum continues to be such a success.
It’s hard to believe that the Railway Environmental Forum has been running for over 20 years, it seems like only yesterday that we had the idea to host the event and we certainly had no idea it would prove to be so popular. Initially we wanted the forum to provide an opportunity for those working in the rail sector to listen to industry experts, find out information, network and have open discussions about the issues affecting them in their roles. These core values haven’t changed over the years, but the event has undoubtedly modernised.
This year we were encouraged to run the day in both the South and the North to accommodate more delegates and ensure that clients all over the UK could attend. The London event was held at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), and unsurprisingly we filled the room with 23 delegates attending. As it was the first time we’ve taken the forum to Scotland we didn’t know how many delegates to expect. Again, all seats were filled and it was great to see so many new faces.
An update on the ORR’s health & wellbeing work
In London, we were thrilled to have Sharon Mawhood, HM Inspector of Railways, Central Specialist Inspector’s Team from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), as one of our guest speakers. Sharon has 24 years’ experience as a government health and safety inspector and is closely involved in the delivery of the ORR’s health programme. Working with Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and key industry groups, the programme aims to drive progress towards consistent legal compliance and excellence in managing health across the industry.
Sharon provided an overview of the ORR’s occupational health programme 2014-19, including details from the July 2016 quarterly update and the ORR’s Better Health is Happening report released in June 2015.
The Better Health is Happening report shows a significant improvement in the rail industry’s management of worker health over the previous four year period however, there’s still much more to be done to put worker health management on a par with rail safety management. In order to assist the industry in achieving these priorities by 2019, the ORR is providing guidance, news updates and sharing good practice examples across their website.
Occupational health and its place in supporting health & wellbeing programmes
We were also lucky to host Alison Crawley, regional business manager and Michael Sharp, senior clinical operations manager, from People Asset Management (PAM), who delivered a session on occupational health and its place in supporting health and wellbeing programmes in the rail industry.
Health & Safety in the UK has traditionally been focussed on safety but the industry is now beginning to see a necessary shift towards health management, not just in the rail sector but across all industries. Employers are beginning to ask “how do we make our employees healthier?”, not just physically but also mentally. Wellbeing means many different things to different people and covers a multitude of factors.
Due to the cross-population of workers between the mining, construction and rail industries, there is still a legacy of vibration and respiratory diseases. During the employment process, fitness for work has traditionally been the focus, whereas employers need to be looking deeper into any existing health issues which could be made worse by certain work place activities. For example, the industry is still reporting 14,000 deaths a year globally from silicosis; what are the true origins of this exposure? The industry needs to become much more transparent and find a way to overcome the challenge of sharing information.
It was good to hear Michael comment that despite there being many challenges to overcome, there is also a lot of positive news in the rail industry which doesn’t always seem to be shared, and the Railway Environmental Forum is a great platform for this.
Substances hazardous to health and biological hazards
SOCOTEC's resident experts, Jonathan Harries, technical manager – environmental compliance, David Wright, senior occupational hygienist, Paul Sear, national technical manager – water hygiene, and Suzanne Kelleher, project manager – water hygiene, all delivered informative sessions on control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) and biological hazards. As David rightly said, the industry has a responsibility to ensure that the occupational hygiene risks in an employees work environment should be no greater than the risks they are exposed to at home.
Discussions turned to monitoring and the question was asked “can employees be over monitored?” Exposure monitoring is important to help direct occupational health professionals, and it is used to ensure the right people are monitored for the right substances at the right times. Although it can sometimes be seen as finding problems, monitoring is working and it helps to protect employees. There needs to be buy-in for monitoring at all levels and occupational hygienists should be considered as part of the wider team. Employees need to understand that the monitoring and controls are in place to protect them, and not to make their jobs more difficult.
Sharon from the ORR then went on to point out that DEEEs and silica are now both Group 1 carcinogens known to cause cancer and it is therefore not enough for employers to simply maintain exposure levels at the control limits. COSHH requires the exposure levels to be kept as low as is reasonably possible, the limits are not considered to be healthy and therefore employers need to take steps to ensure levels are as far below these limits as possible. Both the HSE and ORR are taking this position and more information can be found here.
Something a little different
Traditionally, as well as the presentations, we provide an activity to ensure our guests enjoy their day, and this year was no exception. Following the London forum, we were taken on a tour of the London Transport Museum. We hosted the Glasgow forum at the Riverside Museum which allowed us to visit the exhibits in the afternoon, a great way to end the day and wait out the heavy rain outside!
Join the discussion
As this year’s forum draws to a close I’m already thinking about next year’s venues and the topics we may be asked to cover. As always, we’re open to suggestions. The forum has always been, and will continue to be, about providing advice and sharing ideas around the environmental compliance issues affecting the industry.
If you’re interested in attending next year’s Railway Environmental Forum, there are a number of ways to be kept informed. If you would like to receive ‘On the Tracks’ featuring news and tips from SOCOTEC, the forum and the rail industry, please email [email protected] to subscribe. You can also join the dedicated LinkedIn group here.