Australasia’s current array of major projects have the opportunity to set improved standards for safety across the industry. John Langron explained how Sydney Metro is putting this into practice.
In John Langron’s four-and-a-half-decade career in rail, a lot has changed. Speaking at the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) 2020 Rail Safety Conference, Langron – who is now rail safety manager for the City & Southwest stage of Sydney Metro – reflected on just how far the industry has progressed when it comes to safety.
“On my first day on the railways back in 1974, I turned up at Transport House above Wynyard Station and there’s a bank of elevators there and every lift had a person operating a lift. I noticed over the next few days, everybody that was there operating the lift had an arm or a leg that was amputated.”
Langron asked his supervisor at the time why this was the case and was told that those who were operating the lifts had been injured in trackwork incidents.
“It was a real shock to think that it was almost accepted, that people working in a very dangerous environment would every now and then become injured or worse and that was just the way it was. People nowadays would think that’s totally unacceptable and it’s certainly nowhere near safe enough.”
With rail now having come a long way from the standards that were accepted in the 1970s, Langron said that the current crop of major projects have the opportunity to set improved safety norms.
For a multibillion-dollar project such as Sydney Metro, this opportunity begins at the design stage.
“There’s an opportunity right at the earliest stages to plan alignments, station locations, to improve the safety during construction and then the eventual operation. Also, if you’re designing something from scratch, you can design into the infrastructure the ability to be able to construct it safely as well as operate it safely.”
At an operational level, Langron describes that Sydney Metro can “change the benchmark for customer safety” through the use of technology such as driverless trains, platform screen doors, and removing the gap between the platform and the train.
“Those sorts of things will actually lead to a significant change in safety for everybody,” he said.
Decisions made at the planning stage that can also have a positive impact on safety are those that are made in terms of construction methodologies. With major sites that will be in use for years while construction is underway, there’s an opportunity to do things differently.
“It’s really worth putting the effort in up-front to set sites up properly, so you can separate them physically with hoardings from the live rail environment, you can provide safe access for workers to and from different parts of the site without having to cross live tracks to make it more robust in terms of how you manage safety on those sites,” said Langron.
Other benefits can be gained by developing standard processes. Track possession arrangements, for example, can be repeated or follow standard configurations to not only improve efficiency, but encourage a higher level of safety control. The flip side to this, however, is to guard against complacency.
“The downside of having staff turn up to one site for long periods of time is that they can become complacent, these sites do change from day to day and workers need to be aware of what’s going on at all times,” said Langron.
ELEVATING SAFETY DURING PROJECT DELIVERY
Moving from the planning into the construction phase of the project, Langron said that Sydney Metro had implemented a number of protocols and practices that would set a new standard for safety.
Before entering each site, every worker has to pass through a compliance process.
“There’s breath testing, there’s a swipe card for the Rail Industry Worker cards and then they go through the turnstiles. Nobody can get into the site unless they’ve done those preliminary checks, that’s probably a step above what you’d expect to see on a normal maintenance job or a short term job, but it does give us a more robust way of managing those minimum requirements,” said Langron.
Across the project more broadly, safety controls can be categorised as following an elimination, substitution, or separation process. In the elimination process, the goal is to eliminate the risk. In the example of rail worker electrocution, which is a risk when working in a live rail environment such as the site at Central Station, effort has been made to eliminate the risk entirely.
“Sydney Metro took a bold decision in 2017 to stop the use of Absolute Signal Blocking (ASB) and Lookout Working. That drove worksite protection up to the highest levels, and specifically Local Possession Authority or Track Occupancy Authority. Over the past three years, all live rail work has been able to be carried out predominantly under Local Possession Authorities as a result of rigorous forward planning and great support from Sydney Trains,” said Langron.
In the area of substitution, Langron explained how traditional construction methods could be substituted for safer methods that reduced the exposure to risk. An example of this was the construction of concrete piers to support the truck access bridge into the Central Station site. Precast concrete boxes were fabricated offsite before being lifted into position and filled with concrete during a possession. This avoided the need for scaffolding and formwork in a live rail environment.
“By making those changes you can reduce the risk profile quite significantly,” said Langron.
The final focus is separation, in this case, separating people and equipment from trains. In some cases, this has been achieved through temporary fencing and in places where larger machinery is being used, more substantial jersey barriers have been installed along with weldmesh fencing. The requirements for this kind of separation are then written into contracts with companies that are on site completing works.
For major worksites, further separation has been implemented for the benefit of workers and nearby customers. At Central station, a 4.5-metre-high hoarding has been erected between the project site and the live rail environment immediately adjacent. This not only prevents equipment from slewing into the path of an oncoming train but reduces dust and noise pollution for those standing on the platform.
DRIVING A CULTURAL SHIFT
Behind each of these policies and procedures is a shift in the way that rail authorities approach safety. With major projects like Sydney Metro involving the establishment of new organisations and project delivery authorities, a new culture of safety can be established from the top down, said Langron.
“You’ve got the opportunity there to establishing the culture that you want with people as they come in, rather than in established organisations where you’ve got to change what’s already there. We’ve had the opportunity to creating the culture that Sydney Metro wants, and health and safety have been a huge part of that.”
To formalise this establishment of a safety culture across the organisation, various programs have been instated, and Langron pointed to the success of two of these. The Sydney Metro Orientation Training program instructs every person who joins Metro in the values of the organisation, while the Sydney Metro Industry Curriculum, delivered with Registered Training Organisations, provides soft skills training for higher risk roles such as Protection Officers. Those in the program go through a five-day training course covering areas such as safety critical communication, problem solving, decision making, and risk management.
These programs establish a new level of safety culture that once Sydney Metro is complete or as employees move on to other organisations is spread throughout the rail industry.
“The bottom line is that we want to remove all excuses for unsafe behaviour,” said Langron.