What could possibly go wrong? Risk assessment on the railways

26 October 2018

By Ben Watkins, Senior Policy Executive, Railway Safety.

Ben Watkins, Senior Policy Executive, Railway SafetyRisk Assessment is a familiar but often misunderstood term, leading some people to roll their eyes but for others, especially those of us responsible for ensuring the public and the people we employ are safe, it is the tool we use to foresee how accidents might happen and take action to prevent them.

Risk assessment isn’t new. It has been happening on the railways since the Railway Regulation Acts of the 1840s first gave Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate the powers to carry out safety inspections. But risk assessment has come a long way since then with increasingly complex assessment models coming in to use.

A common approach

Although the fundamentals of risk assessment don’t change much - identify hazards and who might be harmed, evaluate the likelihood and severity of harm occurring, put measures in place to control them, record and review - the various techniques for achieving this have proliferated, making it difficult to see the big picture. So in 2009 the ‘Regulation on a Common Safety Method for Risk Evaluation and Assessment’ (CSM RA) was implemented. This standardised how risk assessments are done so that there is consistency and a fair and open European market that is not restricted by different safety practices.

Revised guidance

We have carried out two consultations to find out how CSM RA is working and, as a result, have changed our guidance to explain that companies don’t need to do lots of different risk assessments – a broadly-scoped CSM RA risk assessment can also satisfy other risk assessment requirements (such as CDM Regulations). We also advise companies to include an obligation to apply CSM RA in any commercial contract arrangements with suppliers - especially manufacturers which have a duty to apply the process during the design phase. Furthermore, we have explained that we think it is good practice to use CSM RA for all changes, including those to which the Regulation do not apply.

Keeping passengers safe

Nothing is completely safe. And we must never forget that railways can be dangerous places - last year 318 passengers suffered major injuries on the mainline railway. But suitable and sufficient risk assessments create safer railways and ensure that millions of people get home safely at the end of the day. Every day.
Britain has one of the safest railways in Europe, but we are not complacent. The ORR is constantly refining its work to ensure that those responsible make Britain's railways safe for passengers and staff.

You can find out more about CSM RA on our website.