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HomeCorporate ResponsibilityHealth and safetyRail Safety Week - Digital and Construction in the Rail industry

Rail Safety Week - Digital and Construction in the Rail industry

James McMorrow, head of HSES for VolkerFitzpatrick’s Rail and Infrastructure division, has over a decade of experience within the rail sector, covering all aspects of environmental, health and wellbeing safety. 

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Over recent years, James has seen first-hand the benefits technology has had on the health and safety of his teams and believes digital technology is improving our understanding and perception of risk in the rail environment.

We spoke with him to understand some of the tools available to better plan and deliver safe work. James also gives us an insight into the pitfalls of charging ahead with digital transformation without upskilling the workforce, including how managing change effectively can have major benefits to the day-to-day activities of front-line supervisors and works managers.

“Digital and construction. These words either leave a person hot under the collar with anticipation for the next innovation, or cold with a dreaded foreboding of the jargon and change to come their way.

“The COVID pandemic has showed the working world the benefits switching to digital platforms can have on our work life balance, how it has improved collaboration within and between teams and how this has helped us create more focused communications.

“What has been difficult to marry together is the blended work environment between those that have on-site experience using the same tried and trusted methods, tools and techniques to deliver amazing infrastructure renewals and enhancements projects, and those who have been upskilling in Building Information Modelling (BIM), Office 365, drones, Internet of Things (IOT), ePiC (digital safe work packs) or in developing off-site capabilities to make our projects lean, green and ultimately safer

“I believe our industry is at a tipping point, and if not managed correctly, is in danger of leaving behind experienced staff, including supervisors, foreman, and works managers – those who continue to use trusted methods and who have no experience or need for new technology – as well as creating a divide between the model environment (3/4D) and the reality on the ground. This has undeniable safety consequences, where lines of communication become incoherent and the language one team uses is not clearly understood by the other.

I believe our industry is at a tipping point, and if not managed correctly, is in danger of leaving behind experienced staff, including supervisors, foreman, and works managers – those who continue to use trusted methods and who have no experience or need for new technology  as well as creating a divide between the model environment (3/4D) and the reality on the ground. This has undeniable safety consequences, where lines of communication become incoherent and the language one team uses is not clearly understood by the other 

Across VolkerFitzpatrick, we are very conscious that every improvement we make, and the trials we undertake, are communicated to the wider workforce. Its key that everyone knows how this new improvement will benefit them, how it could change their routine, and (in most importantly in my opinion) how they can get involved. Throughout all of this, we also emphasise the motto of VolkerWessels UK’s Tomorrow Now digital transformation and innovation strategy: Powered by data; driven by people.  

“Across VolkerFitzpatrick, we are very conscious that every improvement we make, and the trials we undertake, are communicated to the wider workforce. It’s key that everyone knows how this new improvement will benefit them, how it could change their routine, and (in most importantly in my opinion) how they can get involved. Throughout all of this, we also emphasise the motto of VolkerWessels UK’s Tomorrow Now digital transformation and innovation strategy: Powered by data; driven by people.

“Our people are always at the heart of both our digital strategy and our safety and wellbeing strategy. The use of digital and new technology must also be linked with training, experience and ultimately competence. For example, what good is having a fully compliant BIM model without constructability input, clash detection to prevent reworks, and construction sequencing from those who will be actually building the job. By ensuring our experienced and competent site personnel are actively communicating with our design and engineering teams, we can achieve a successful environment and not just a 3D model.

“During 2020, our division recognised the need to upskill our front-line leaders in order to meet our new digital workspace; to be aware of the technologies available, and know how these will be used on their projects.

“We started with changing our monthly health and safety meetings, and asked our management front-line leaders (works managers and supervisors) to run the events, rather than our management team. We also provided safety reports in PowerBi and upskilled our people to use and understand the reports. Our front-line leaders not only owned safety on site, but also came to own their safety data. They collaboratively discussed trends from close calls, behavioural safety briefings and lessons learnt.

“Now, our monthly safety meeting are permanently led by the front-line leaders, they are attended regularly by over 70 people, including supply chain and clients, and learning opportunities are shared and supplemented by the data and not dominated by it.

“From that strong foundation, we enabled the front-line leaders to have a broader access to digital tools. By supporting our front-line leaders, we are now realising the benefits that technology can bring to help us eliminate safety accidents and incidents (not just reducing the likelihood or severity, but actually eliminating the hazards).

“This success helped site teams believe that digital tools can have as much benefit as physical tools, and created the goodwill and trust needed to trial, and in some cases increase, the use of digital tools on projects. This allowed us to introduce new tools on our projects, including Pix4D for service avoidance, Holobuilder for site progress and inductions, GenieBelt for updating real-time events and programme, On-Trac for digital safe work packs and PRISM for proactive fatigue management.

“Ultimately, we can use digital tools to eliminate harm, and reduce accidents and incidents and our reliance on physical tools, further embedding VolkerFitzpatrick’s safety initiative - PALS – into our projects. The P within PALS stand for Plan, which is inherent in the digital tools we are adopting;  when used effectively, they will support our people to get home safe every day, by improving the planning process, reducing re-work and improving communication in design and construction teams.

“And finally, the million pound question we should all be asking ourselves, before integrating digital tools is: if the benefits of a digital tool cannot be understood by the people on the ground doing or leading the works, is it the right tool? We have started to embed our digital tools at the front line, but we must keep the feedback loop open with our most important asset – our people!”