Adapting to working-life during COVID-19

12 May 2020

By Sarah Cairns, HM Principal Inspector of Railways.

There’s no doubt we are living in unprecedented times.

As an HM Inspector of Railways, we have had to adapt our ways of working to ensure we continue to play our role in keeping essential rail and freight services moving and continue our regulatory activity, holding duty holders to account, during this difficult time. We’re being pragmatic and flexible in our approach to maintain the safety of the railways, its employees and the public.

We normally go out on the network quite a lot looking at the activities of duty holders such as train companies and Network Rail, who we monitor and inspect. We’ve been looking at how we can minimise the need for on the ground inspections to comply with government guidance, although there are occasions where we need to visit site, such as safety incidents.

No two days are the same in this job and if anything, we’re busier now than ever because we are also checking all of the COVID-19 contingency/recovery plans and being an ear for organisations by providing them with advice and guidance.

I already do a lot of my office work from home so my “office” environment hasn’t changed, the difference now is that, like many others, I am now working from home with my children – which can prove quite difficult.  Juggling work, teaching and parenting with more demand on our broadband from me being on Skype and them on Google Classroom – has been a challenge.

But overall the technology has coped.

Working collaboratively with duty holders we’ve managed to hold liaison meetings with train company heads of safety online via Skype, inspections of key documents/plans via Teams and challenged the operators where necessary. This flexibility resulted in praise from one colleague from LNER, who coined the phrase “virtual inspections”.

From a personal perspective I’ve also been able to use technology to keep up to date with friends and family. It’s new, it’s different but we are coping well and it has been great to connect easily, although in a new way with people.

I believe we will all come out of this looking at things differently.