TRANSPORTATION

Safety culture takes precedence in rail transport operations

It is concerned with the protection of life and property through regulation, management and technology

In Summary

• The role of safety in railway transport cannot be overstated.

• All railway systems and equipment have a human component and are thus susceptible to human error.

Passengers at the Nairobi terminus going to board the SGR passenger train to Mombasa
Passengers at the Nairobi terminus going to board the SGR passenger train to Mombasa
Image: FILE

The global railway system has witnessed exponential growth over the last few years.

Its market size was valued at $24.72 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $37.36 billion by 2026, registering a compound annual growth rate of 5.4 per cent from 2019-26. This is according to Allied Market Research, a US-based market research and advisory company.

With this rapid growth, safety culture remains the essential precondition for successful rail business.

By definition, the safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation's health and safety management.

A sound safety culture includes a commitment to safety, realistic practices for handling hazards, continuous organisational learning, and care and concern for risks shared across the workforce.

Specifically, railway safety is concerned with the protection of life and property through regulation, management and technology development of all forms of rail transportation.

Outstanding safety performance means getting it right first time, fewer stoppages and delays, better operational performance and better productivity. Conversely, unsafe working also impacts performance, both for the individual employee and for the whole railway network.

Taking cognizance of this, Africa Star Railway Operation Company, the operator the standard gauge railway, gives precedence to safety as one of its core values. Indeed, Afristar’s mantra is “Safety First, Prevention Foremost”.

The role of safety in railway transport cannot be overstated. All railway systems and equipment have a human component and are thus susceptible to human error.

The operator and Kenya Railways Corporation, the SGR regulator, give prominence to safety. Afristar has inculcated a railway safety culture among staff through evaluation of employee adherence to safety regulations and procedures, performance appraisals, bonuses and promotions based on performance appraisal results and rewarding Safety Champions quarterly and annually.

Because of the prominence it gives to safety, the company is training 79 employees in leading rail-oriented institutions. Course topics include railway container and multimodal transport, railway transportation organisation technology and railway transportation dispatching and command, all of which include railway safety as a key element.

Joseph Njane, one of the training beneficiaries, is a safety officer from the Safety Supervision department. Njane trains Afristar employees on occupational safety and health and environmental protection and has recorded railway safety training videos that are used as one of the training materials. He has played an important role in promoting safety culture.

From the perspective of a railway organisation, acknowledging the importance of safety implies that an integrated safety approach may be necessary to gain trust from the public and the regulator, in this case, KRC.

In such an integrated approach, the basic design of a technology should aim to simultaneously minimise the consumption of material, energy and land, environmental pollution and external and occupational safety and health risks.

In addition, there is need for the railway industry to have a dynamism of safety culture to cope with ever-changing safety issues that emerge from a changing socioeconomic environment.

To catalyse a safety culture among riders and other rail users, an animation demonstrating SGR safety tips is televised in all stations. The safety signs are also displayed throughout the station. Besides, passenger stewards and attendants are on hand to take passengers through safety guidelines.

This has also been extended to the community, where the safety and supervision department has conducted over 150 safety training exercises in schools, shopping centres and local government agencies along the Mombasa -Suswa line.

But there is no denying that in the process of implementing a safety culture among the SGR users, challenges also abound. KRC and Afristar have to contend with a cultural diversity as Sino-Kenyan values and beliefs complement each other. Therefore, instilling safety values requires a complex communication and coordination system for training and rectification.

Whereas all stakeholders should be aware that railway safety is everyone’s responsibility, this is not the case as there are cases of people affecting railway safety through vandalism and theft of SGR infrastructure and equipment.

In the final analysis, safety culture and its dynamics cannot be considered in isolation but must be integrated with the system thinking framework, ie, the dynamic relations between technology, human resources, management, and culture must be considered simultaneously to develop an understanding of the temporal profile of safety performance and to develop analytical tools for evaluating management policy.

The writer is deputy manager, Corporate Culture, Afristar, SGR Operations