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Confidential reporting could prevent further disasters


A RAILTRACK-led safety conference is today expected to approve the introduction of a confidential reporting system that will help stop rail disasters similar to last week's Ladbroke Grove crash.

The Railway Group conference between Railtrack and some of its key suppliers will discuss the network-wide introduction of CIRAS - a confidential incident reporting and analysis system. Such a system has been operating in Railtrack's Scotland zone for the last three years.

CIRAS allows rail workers to express their safety fears in confidential reports. These could highlight anything from problem signals to workplace attitudes. The system allows staff to express concerns without fear of reprisal.

Under CIRAS, employees are discouraged from filing anonymous reports, but their concerns are treated confidentially. This is intended to ensure reports are genuine and can be followed up.

In Scotland, Strathclyde University's Centre for Applied Psychology runs the system. Railtrack Scotland safety strategy manager Mike Bennett said: 'CIRAS allows railway companies to have access to information they wouldn't otherwise know and will improve the safety culture. It also allows the university to build up a model of how humans in guided transport behave.'

Last November, a Commons transport select committee report on railway safety recommended the introduction of CIRAS across the whole country. Committee chair Gwyneth Dunwoody told NCE it could also help with accident investigations.

'It gives you a chance to identify problems. The rules of evidence make it difficult to bring out information, so we said the Government should look at confidential systems so that information can be brought out without interfering with evidence.'

Railtrack safety strategy and planning controller Aidan Nelson explained that absolute confidence in the integrity of the scheme was key to its success. 'It must have the trust of managers and not pose a threat to them.'

Today's conference is expected to agree the contents of the 2000-2001 Railway Group safety plan agreed in June. A working group will then study the proposals and make final recommendations early next year.

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