On 18 November 2009, the UIC Occupational Health and Safety Group of the Safety Platform organised a workshop on stress in the railway environment at UIC Headquarters. Simon Fletcher, head of the safety unit and Colin Clifton, Chairman of the Occupational Health and Safety Group and Head of Safety at Southeastern in the UK, welcomed participants and underlined the importance of the subject for safe railways.
Stress is a reaction people have to excessive pressure placed on them at work. When work-related stress becomes heightened and prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop. There are clear signs of stress among staff. When detected early, action can be taken before the stress becomes a safety problem, and it is easier to reduce and eliminate the causes.
The workshop gave participants the opportunity to share their experience. The first session, chaired by Dr Christian Gravert, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Corporate Health Management at Deutsche Bahn AG, covered stress in the workplace.
Alison Dunn, Head of Treatment Services in the Occupational Health Department at Transport for London, presented how her organisation is promoting mental health in the London Underground by ensuring better diagnosis and treatment of work-related stress, improving managerial competence in providing healthy workplaces, assessing work environments, raising the profile of mental health and well-being at work, and developing more sophisticated flexible work methods.
Subsequently, Fabrice Ardeois, occupational psychologist at SNCF, presented an urgent intervention he had made in previous working context, drawing on a methodology without the need of any “scientific” anti-stress tool.
Serge Piteljon, National Secretary of the rail staff department (FGTB) of CGSP (Belgian public services trade union) and Chairman of the “Interoperability and Adaptability” group at ETF, presented the trade unions’ perspective and action they have taken to help people face stress. He reminded participants of the European legislative framework and emphasised the importance of staff health in the railways – railways are a technically integrated system in which human beings have a major part to play in maintaining a high level of safety.
One of the interesting aspects of the workshop was the participation of other sectors, namely the BEA (French body in charge of investigations into civil aviation accidents or incidents) and the Paris fire brigade. The session was chaired by Meryem Belhaj, Senior Advisor for International Training and Human Factors at UIC. Dr Didier Delaître, investigating doctor at BEA, spoke about the psychological burden for those involved in civil aviation accident and incident investigations. Dr Nelly Lavilluniere then presented the fire brigade’s work on stress and trauma prevention for firefighters.
The second session of the afternoon, chaired by Colin Clifton, focused on posttraumatic stress. Dr Christian Gravert (DB) gave a presentation on posttraumatic stress disorder and its prevention at DB AG. He also presented the booklet on posttraumatic stress produced by DB AG. Fiona Kenvyn, Senior Ergonomist at Network Rail, then gave a presentation on training for trauma preparedness and especially a case study on preparative measures against trauma and stress for rail operations staff. She said that training had traditionally focused on developing technical skills and teaching procedures, but a review of some of the operational technical training programmes had identified an area in which training was insufficient: mitigation of the aspects of certain work roles which showed a potential to be psychologically harmful. This had been an opportunity to develop a training module integrating training programmes for two operational roles: Mobile Operations Managers and Signallers.
In the subsequent presentation, Christian Neveu, in charge of the Human and Organisational Factors Centre of the SNCF Safety Department and Chairman of the Human Factors Working Group, stressed that treating posttraumatic stress is a human and safety issue. He presented a study carried out as part of a benchmarking investigation into the contribution of psychology to safety in the railway sector. The aim had been to collect and distribute information on practices implemented on various networks (Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Romania and Poland).
The workshop was concluded by a round table on the development of a UIC posttraumatic stress handbook. Virginie Papillault, ergonomist and human factors expert at UIC, in charge of the project, presented an outline of the contents and stated that a taskforce would be needed to carry out the work.