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November 11, 2009

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Construction- On the right track

Tube Lines is responsible for day-to-day maintenance and capital works on three of London Underground’s busiest lines and so is under considerable pressure to complete work on time and to budget. Shane Tracey explains how the company is meeting this challenge and, at the same time, achieving significant safety milestones.

In the early days of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract1 critics and cynics prophesied that safety under the private sector would deteriorate, and that a profit incentive would undermine the safety of employees, contractors and passengers. Today, however, employees and contractors working for Tube Lines are 20 times less likely to suffer injury at work than when it started work on the London Underground in early 2003. Back then, the (RIDDOR) lost-time injury frequency rate was 1.4; today, that rate has dropped to 0.04.

Tube Lines is responsible for carrying out day-to-day maintenance of 320km of track assets and 100 stations on the London Underground system, as well as delivering a £2.3 billion capital-works investment programme over the seven-and-a-half years up to mid 2010.2 This investment programme requires the upgrade of more than 100km of track, 96 stations, 90 lifts, 227 escalators, and the replacement of the signalling systems on the Jubilee and Northern lines. (The company is also responsible for the Piccadilly line.)

Improving the safety of work sites and rewarding safe behaviour can motivate staff and help foster a workplace culture of innovation, which can lead to greater productivity and a more efficiently-run business, and there is strong evidence to show that this has been the case for Tube Lines. For example, the average time it takes to upgrade a station now is nine months compared with 12 months a few years ago. Costs have also come down — those related to track replacement by 40 per cent and the stations programme by 50 per cent.

Tube Lines is currently up against it to complete the Jubilee line upgrade, which will improve reliability and capacity of the line. We are now at the most technically difficult stage in this six-year project, testing and commissioning the signalling software to ensure it is reliable, works safely, and delivers the increase in journey times that it is designed to do. But even under such pressure, the focus on safety remains: this summer, a major safety milestone was achieved by the delivery group responsible for modernising all three lines for which Tube Lines is responsible: we worked 5.8 million hours over a full year without a single lost-time injury (LTI). That involved up to 4000 men and women from the organisation itself and our supply chain, working safely every day and every night on the Tube without losing a single shift due to injury.
The road to zero

The Projects directorate within Tube Lines is made up of four delivery groups: the stations group is responsible for upgrading stations and making a number of those step-free; the permanent-way team is responsible for the renewal of track and civils; another team is responsible for upgrading lifts and escalators; and the train-systems team is responsible for improving the journey-time capability across all three lines.

While there are company-wide health and safety procedures and policies to which all must adhere, in the past, the four delivery groups often operated as silo organisations, working to their own safety agendas and not always sharing best practice. Breaking that silo mentality and organising ourselves to work collectively towards a common goal was therefore key. We had to spread the message that we were all in this together, and if one group missed the target, that meant we all did.

We also had to ensure that everyone — from those at the coal-face inside our own organisation and our contractor and sub-contractor organisations to senior management — bought into and understood their role in achieving the goal of being incident-free. Getting the safety advisory team members on board, particularly those working the night shifts, was the first priority; they not only police site safety but also provide support and advice for the teams on the ground. They are trusted by the teams, so if they believed in the possibility that a whole year could be worked by a cross-organisational team of 4000 without a single LTI, then others would, too.

Getting everyone else on board was the next challenge. There are many businesses out there that place huge importance on the safety and well-being of their staff, and which have adequate systems and procedures in place to manage the various health and safety risks. But I daresay that most would consider a zero LTI objective, however admirable, as unachievable and highly unrealistic, particularly in the rail/construction industry.

Fortunately, by the time we were ready to launch our ‘Road to Zero’ campaign, we had already achieved a full year without a RIDDOR — a target we had set ourselves in readiness for achieving the more difficult task of hitting zero LTIs over a year. This was an important milestone for us, as it demonstrated that a zero LTI target was, however ambitious, actually possible to achieve, and it helped enormously in gaining the confidence and buy-in of the whole team.

Making it happen

Spreading the Road to Zero message and how it could be achieved was vital to ensuring buy-in. Any opportunity to provide support and raise awareness was taken; nightly site briefings were used to remind everyone of the importance of observing and drawing attention to good and bad safety behaviour; and employees and contractors were encouraged to report all incidents, especially near-misses, which tend to be under-reported. Greater visibility of all incidents would enable us to plot trends, investigate the causes, and put in place measures to reduce the risk of incidents reoccurring. We also hosted regular safety forums and workshops, where people from all different delivery groups were able to learn from each other’s experiences. These workshops helped build a sense of teamwork and reinforce the message that this was a collective effort.

Recognition and reward schemes were also set up to encourage and recognise good safety behaviour.

Healthy competition between teams and contractors was encouraged. We tailor-made a site-safety and contractor-inspections software package to replace paper inspection forms. This not only allows for greater efficiencies across the business but also provides visibility of the results of any inspection carried out, and of any safety actions outstanding. We have used this functionality to create league tables to rank how different parts of the business and our contractors are performing, safety-wise. This helped motivate everyone to improve safety on their sites, encourage safe behaviour generally, and quickly address any safety issue of concern.

To support people through training, we held weekly focus groups and short training sessions to remind them about safe working practices. We also provided ‘Site Person in Charge’ training for those in construction roles to help upskill them and give them a sense of safety responsibility and leadership on site.

We launched our own ‘hazard school’, based inside our Skills Training Centre in Stratford, east London. The aim of the school is to raise awareness of the potential hazards that people may encounter while working onsite and, ultimately, to prevent accidents and injuries. Most people are aware of the obvious dangers, such as working at height, or on the track, but things like broken PPE and faulty equipment might not be as easy to spot.

In the hazard school there are 60 hazards and 15 examples of best practice that need to be spotted. All are displayed in a mock construction site and after trainees have been through the school they feedback to the health, safety and environment manager. This simulation technique works really to remind people of what a safe working environment in the unique London Underground setting should look like.

Leadership and performance measurement

To help maintain focus, a Road to Zero team of senior managers, including the projects director, was established. It met regularly to review safety-performance metrics, discuss safety issues and agree remedial actions. The majority of our work takes place at night and it was important that these senior managers, who are mainly office-based, working predominantly days, were visible on the ground, demonstrating safety leadership

They would regularly undertake night visits to carry out inspections and engage the workforce on safety issues, addressing any concerns they had. During these visits a ‘never walk by’ approach to safety was promoted to reinforce a no-tolerance culture with regard to poor safety behaviours. Getting the message across in the right way was essential in getting workers on side, so negative reinforcement was avoided and replaced by positive engagement and feedback.

The Road to Zero team also undertook benchmarking exercises, visiting construction sites managed by other organisations and bringing back best practice to improve site safety, where needed.
To boost visibility of achievement and progress we introduced a wall calendar in the main meeting room. Every Monday, at our senior staff meeting, the days that had passed without injury were ripped off the calendar — a small but important weekly ceremony that kept senior management focused and the teams motivated.
Getting results

Thursday, 6 August 2009 was a momentous day because the very difficult target of achieving a full year without a lost-time injury was achieved. But the journey has not stopped there. Tube Lines is continuing to maintain this high-performance safety culture and ensure safety remains a core value when planning and undertaking our work. We are now developing a strategy and supporting plans that will enable us to make step-changes in how we work, so that we can maintain our focus and performance. While our Road to Zero campaign has helped us achieve high levels of safety performance, the process has made us realise that there are still more changes to be made to the way we work. Stand clear of the doors — we are ready to depart!


1    To find out more about PPP visit
2    The 30-year PPP contract under which Tube Lines operates is reviewed every 7.5 years and was originally signed at the end of 2002

Shane Tracey is head of HSQ&E for the Tube Lines project directorate.

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