Secrecy key to safety system

August 11, 2000

Rail travel across the country could become safer, thanks to a confidential reporting system pioneered by Strathclyde University, writes Olga Wojtas.

The national scheme is based on the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System (CIRAS) developed in 1996 by Strathclyde's centre for applied social psychology. The research leader is John Davies, professor of psychology with expertise in human error.

Reporting safety problems has been linked to disciplinary procedures, making rail staff reluctant to put their concerns on the record. But Scotrail funded a pilot project for an alternative reporting system, unassociated with discipline, which it believed was needed to uncover the day-to-day practices of drivers and other key safety staff.

The Strathclyde system allows staff to report accidents or unsafe practices without the fear of action being taken against them. A report goes to senior management, but guarantees individuals cannot be identified.

The CIRAS database has also allowed the Strathclyde team to spot related incidents or trends that might lead to accidents. Strathclyde has now won a contract from Railtrack's safety and standards directorate for a system covering the whole country.

A charitable trust is being set up to own the data generated by the CIRAS, and trustees will control access to it, ensuring that confidentiality is protected.

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