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Safety culture takes precedence in railway transport operations

By Olivia Mengich | December 13th 2020
Olivia Mengich, Deputy Manager Corporate Affairs, Africa Star Railway Operations Company.

The global railway system market has witnessed exponential growth over the last few years.

Its market size was valued at $24.72 billion (Sh2.5 trillion) in 2018 and is projected to reach $37.36 billion (Sh38 trillion) by 2026, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.4 per cent. This is according to Allied Market Research, a US-based firm.

With this rapid growth, safety culture remains the essential precondition for a successful rail business.

By definition, the safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management.

A sound safety culture includes a commitment to realistic practices for handling hazards, continuous organisational learning and care and concern for risks shared across the workforce. Specifically, railway safety is concerned with the protection of life and property through regulation, management and technology development.

Outstanding safety performance means getting it right the first time, fewer stoppages and delays, better operational performance and better productivity. Conversely, unsafe working also impacts performance, both for the individual employee and for the whole railway network.

Taking cognisance of this, Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), the operator of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), gives precedence to safety as one of its core values. Indeed, Afristar’s mantra is “Safety First, Prevention Foremost”.

The role of safety in railway transport cannot be overstated. All railway systems and equipment have a human component and are therefore susceptible to human error. It is noteworthy that Afristar and Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) give prominence to safety.

Notably, Afristar has inculcated a railway safety culture among staff through evaluation of employee adherence to safety regulations and procedures, performance appraisals, bonuses and promotions based on performance and rewarding safety champions quarterly and annually.

Because of the prominence it gives to safety, the company has so far sent 79 employees on training in leading rail-oriented institutions.

From the perspective of a railway organisation, acknowledging the importance of safety implies that an integrated safety approach may be necessary to gain trust from the public and the regulator, in this case, KRC.

In such an integrated approach, the basic design of technology should aim to simultaneously minimise the consumption of material, energy, and land; environmental pollution; as well as external and occupational safety and health risks.

In addition, there is need for the railway industry to have a dynamism of culture to cope with ever-changing safety issues.

To catalyse a safety culture among riders and other rail users, an animation demonstrating SGR safety tips is televised in all stations. The safety signs are also displayed throughout the station. Besides, passenger stewards and attendants are on hand to take passengers through safety guidelines.

This has also been extended to the community, where the Safety and Supervision Department has conducted over 150 training exercises in schools, shopping centres and local government agencies along the Mombasa-Suswa line.

But there is no denying that in the process of implementing a safety culture among the SGR users, challenges also abound. Both KRC and Afristar have to contend with a cultural diversity as Sino-Kenyan values and beliefs complement each other.

Therefore, instilling safety values requires a complex communication and coordination system for training and rectification.

- The writer is Deputy Manager, Corporate Culture, Afristar, SGR Operations

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