On April 30, for the sixth year running, the rail industry in Australia and New Zealand will come together to ask colleagues, friends, and workmates, “Are you ok?”.
Run in collaboration between the TrackSAFE Foundation and non-profit suicide prevention organisation R U OK?, the day serves a way for those who work in the rail industry to support each other, said Bob Herbert, executive chairman of TrackSAFE.
“There’s around 300 attempts and 150 deaths on Australia’s train lines can be attributed to suicide each year. That impacts rail employees very severely, whether they’re drivers, stations staff, or maintenance staff and so Rail R U OK?Day was originally set up to deal with that trauma,” said Herbert.
In 2020, the day has taken on added significance as rail workers contend with the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on their working conditions, and the industry has responded in kind.
“We’ve got around 100 organisations participating in it this year, and each one appoints at least one champion, so there’s 120 champions, and we haven’t got the final figures yet, but I reckon we’ll touch 70,000 employees. This would be our biggest year ever,” said Herbert.
While a national R U OK?Day will be held in September, April 30 is a rail specific event that acknowledges the particular experiences of rail employees, said Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK?.
“Rail R U OK?Day is distinct because it’s an industry specific campaign. It’s a day for the rail industry, for operators, drivers, admin staff, for everyone who’s in the industry to come together. It’s about acknowledging that they do see challenging incidents, and that the rail community as workmates and as colleagues can be there for each other during those times.”
In keeping with the grassroots nature of the wider R U OK? iInitiative, the rail day is a day for industry, by industry, highlighted Herbert.
“I’m delighted that this is the industry funding it, there are 30 subscribers, big and small rail companies, and they see this as an important initiative for the whole industry.”
Ahead of the day, TrackSAFE and R U OK? Have distributed rail-specific materials to encourage colleagues to sit down with each other or pick up the phone and get in touch. Herbert noted that these resources, in addition to TrackSAFE’s partnership with Lifeline, allow for an ongoing conversation.
“There’s nothing more important that having employees say to one another, ‘‘Are you ok?’’ and knowing what to do if you’re not ok, where do you refer them, how do you help them, make sure that there’s some action being taken and getting some follow up to see if you’re ok. That’s the message, quite simple really, but of all the things that I’ve been engaged in this is one of the most important at addressing mental health issues.”
THE IMPACT OF COVID-19
Having been determined to be an essential service by all levels of government in Australia and New Zealand, the rail industry has been operating throughout measures implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, and each sector has been called upon to contribute in their own way. Occurring in the run up to Rail R U OK?Day, Herbert has seen the industry come together like never before.
“Each of the companies are conscious of all the rules that apply, in terms of social distancing, and companies are practicing that. They understand their employees will face stressed passengers, and I’m pleased that TrackSafe can offer a big piece in the jigsaw as to how best it’s managed.”
Newton concurred, noting that while there may be a new physical distance between the rail industry, it’s more important than ever to be socially connected.
“While we’re being asked to be socially distant, we still need social connection and that’s really our message. We need to stay connected while and I think that the way that people have come together, with the increases that we’ve seen in both organisations that are taking part and the number of champions that are within those organisations, testifies to the idea of there is a lot more talking at the moment.”
Ahead of the day itself, participating rail companies and organisations have been provided with resources tailored to the conditions imposed by COVID-19 and are preparing for virtual meet-ups and calls.
“Let’s see what happens on the day but people are putting together some really creative ways online that they can connect,” said Newton. “It’s a great opportunity to pause and to take a moment, whether that be via phone, SMS, social media or the zooms that are happening around the country.”
AN ONGOING CONVERSATION
On April 30, leaders within the Australasian railways industry will be talking with their colleagues and checking in with each other, Herbert included.
“I won’t be sitting back and watching on the 30th, I’ve been invited to engage firstly with QR and Transdev New Zealand have asked me to do a presentation. My collages Danny Broad and Caroline Wilkie will be kicking in with Sydney Trains and Metro Trains Melbourne, so everywhere that we can spread ourselves we will be doing it.”
Other organisation will hold online webinars highlighting strategies for workmates to ask the critical question and for the past months two interactive question marks have been travelling around the country, beginning in Canberra for the first time. However, both Herbert and Newton noted that these conversations can continue year-round.
“Our message is that every day is R U OK?Day,” said Newton. “It’s very much around creating a culture of R U OK? and that’s where we see it works best. It’s not just having some cupcakes on Rail R U OK? Day or indeed R U OK?Day in September, it’s about having meaningful conversations and chats and that can only really come with trust.
“There has to be trust within colleagues and managers and it can be really helpful if leaders can show a bit of vulnerability and can show that they trust the people around them and say, ‘we all go through stuff, I’m human too and this is what we can do for each other’.”
Herbert agreed, and is looking forward to connecting with his rail colleagues once again.
“While April 30 becomes a significant exclamation mark for asking R U OK? It ought to be something we are doing all year round. We’ll engage with the national R U OK day in September I hope by then people can get together like they normally do,” he said.