The concern related to controllers at [Location] utilising personal electronic devices and not following correct procedure in regards to work on track authorities.
The reporter has raised a safety concern regarding controllers at the [Location] Control Centre utilising their personal mobile phones whilst operating the control board. The potential for a controller to be distracted from safety critical tasks is high, however, the practice appears to be largely accepted by supervisors.
The reporter further states that on occasion, controller/s have requested protection officers on worksites working with work on track authorities to shortcut procedures, presumably because it is more effort and time consuming to ensure all procedures are followed correctly. The reporter provided an example where workers and their equipment were on one line, and the controller wanted to suspend the work on track authority to allow a train to pass on the adjacent line. The single work on track authority included, and covered, working on both lines. The controller requested the workers ‘just leave all the equipment’ as they could return shortly. The appropriate procedures to enable this action to occur were not followed. The protection officer in this instance refused and there was no breach, however, the reporter is concerned that if controller/s are placing pressure on track workers, it is foreseeable that breaches will occur.
The reporter states that the procedures are in place to ensure the safety of track workers and for the safe operation of the trains. If controllers are willing to, and encouraging others, to take short cuts, it poses a serious safety risk.
Based upon the concerns raised in the report, [Operator] has undertaken the following actions:
- Discussed the concerns raised at a senior management level between the corporate safety function and the management team responsible for the Control Centre.
- Reviewed polices in relation to mobile phone usage at the Control Centre and arranged for reminders on the correct protocols in relation to personal mobile phones to be issued.
- Arranged for an independent audit by the Rail Safety Assurance Team to look at occasions over the past six months when Network Control Officers (NCO’s) have implemented, suspended and re-instated work on track authorities to ensure there are no underlying, unrecognised problems in this area.
ONRSR has reviewed the reporter’s concerns and the operator’s response. The matters raised have been considered in the planning of regulatory activities that have recently been conducted as part of the 2019 National Work Program.
The ATSB is encouraged to see proactive measures being implemented by an operator as a result of a confidential report. The actions proposed by the operator are very good examples of best practice approach to address concerns raised through REPCON.