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Know your accountabilities: The Yarra Trams safety journey

Yarra Trams Clement Michel - Photo Yarra Trams

Yarra Trams chief executive Clément Michel insists accountability and strong employee-manager relationships are crucial to ensuring a safe transport network.

Michel, who was appointed chief operating officer at Keolis Downer (Victoria) Yarra Trams in 2009, before transitioning to chief executive in February 2013, spoke in late March at the Rail Safety 2015 Conference in Melbourne, organised by RISSB and Informa.

In 1988, an SNCF commuter service crashed into a stationary outbound train at the Gare de Lyon rail terminal in Paris, killing more than 50 people and injuring just as many.

Despite not joining the staff at Paris-Gare de Lyon until 2000, Michel recalled that he couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility when his predecessor showed him a box full of press materials, pictures, and news clippings about the incident, several years later.

From then on, Michel said, he has been inspired to instil a sense of accountability to his staff, to make them feel accountable to their organisation, and to its customers.

You can engineer a risk out only if you have somebody accountable to engineer it out. That is the transformation journey. – Clément Michel

Michel believes that in an ideal safety culture, people will consistently reflect, not to simply feel responsible for their actions, but to “feel accountable, and therefore be driven to act”.

During his presentation at the Melbourne gathering, Michel said at the heart of the issue lies employee-manager relationships.

Regardless of how many new structures and programs are established, Michel said there will always exist a high percentage of non-compliance to rules, when at the core of the organisation, employee-manager relationships are crumbling.

In the world of franchising models, there are things managers and employees are both accountable for, he said, explaining that when both sides are aware of these accountabilities, it is easier to work around pertinent issues, like safety risks, customer interaction, punctuality, processes, and leadership.

Upon arrival at Yarra Trams, Michel said he moved quickly to fix the rules and train the staff. An excellent simulator was crucial for initial driver training, he said, adding that proper and continuous training can help enhance an employee’s innate skills and talents, preparing them to do better in their assigned tasks.

Michel stressed the importance of monitoring all work through automated completion processes and programs.

An automated system, similar to the one Yarra Trams is currently using, enables managers to observe how all the employees are performing, Michel explained.

Michel concluded with an outline of the most important aspects of improving safety in a transport organisation. He said:

  • Accountabilities should be initially laid out on the table
  • Structures on the key processes and leadership must be clearly established
  • The accountability metric system (accountability matrix) must be absolutely clear and fully understood by everyone in the organisation
  • All managers should be held fully accountable for their regular directive reports
  • Managers should be held accountable for the safe outcome and safety of their teams. and the safety of their teams

RISSB and Informa will team up again for the RISSB National Rail Turnouts Workshop, to be held in Sydney from May 27 to 28. Click here for more information.

Related story: When rail meets road: Making rams safer with Clement Michel, Yarra Trams

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