On a recent visit to a rail construction site in London, I noticed a sign in the staff room. It was a picture of a happy work crew and above them in big bold letters it said, ‘Safety is a State of Mind’.
Its goal was to emphasize how safety is now more than just hard hats, gloves, steel toe capped boots and perhaps a video on your first day. On a modern build, it’s an all-encompassing approach involving new technology and every contributor to the project, whether on site or not. With a good safety attitude, fewer accidents will occur meaning fewer injuries, less lost days and a safer, more productive working environment.
The UK has worked hard to secure a long-term downward trend in fatalities and injuries. But there’s still more to be done, despite high standards in the UK, 2017/18 still saw 144 workers killed, 555,000 non-fatal injuries representing almost 4 million working days lost due to injury.
To learn more about safety for a 21st century network, Luke Upton recently sat down with Malcolm Keys, a Director at BAI Communications UK, where he leads BAI’s Transport Telecommunications Business Development. Prior to this he was the CEO of Airwave Solutions (Australia).
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today, so does this ‘Safety is a State of Mind’ message resonate for you?
Malcolm Keys (MK): Yes, the UK rail sector has a strong emphasis on people’s safety, however the challenge for all service providers is to find ways to do better. This requires a focus on culture, process, workplace and the use of technology. This holistic approach can create safety as a ‘state of mind’. Safety is more than just about having rules in place. At BAI Communications, this is only one small element of a comprehensive approach that employs a hierarchy of controls to manage risks to people’s health and safety.
Firstly, we work to eliminate risks at the design stage of a communications network project. Every design decision made must have safety in mind throughout the lifecycle of the project. It is not just at the installation stage but also the lifelong operations. For example, the placing of a new radio transmitter in an underground station is not only about radio frequency performance but also about considering how it will be maintained. Is the ceiling location optimal if it requires the maintenance engineer to climb to the top of a very high ladder next to the platform edge? Could it work just as well lower down? It’s thinking like that that governs the decisions we make right from the design phase.
If safety flaws can be identified early, we firmly believe that risks can be designed out of the process. The impact of any residual risks then need to be reduced through clear planning and development of a culture where people’s attitude to safety is paramount. The right attitude and recognition of safe performance drives safety behaviours that are far more effective than the threat of discipline for not following rules.
We aim for a workplace culture where everyone is responsible for safety, therefore it should no longer be a seen as a hierarchical issue. New information management solutions are needed to support an organisation where information about risks needs to be shared widely at all levels of the organisation. New wireless technologies provide connectivity enabling smartphone apps for incident and good practice reporting from the field, giving individual workers a direct method to participate and invest in creating a safer workplace. This holistic approach to risk management is essential if ‘Zero Harm’ is to be achieved.
LU: So how about for BAI Communications, do you have some unique challenges?
MK: A lot of our work puts our people in harsh environments, for example the underground that has numerous physical hazards, extremes of temperature and where work is tightly regulated. Our transport agency partners have a strong safety culture and we always mirror that.
We often employ specialist construction and installation companies who are themselves medium size enterprises. Assuming everyone will ‘just follow the rules’ is not enough, we aim to embed the same safety culture in all work teams, regardless of the employer structure. On a major modern construction site there are often workers on short term contracts, such as specialists who are brought in for specific tasks, so how do we make sure they are onboard with the safety culture? Connectivity can support this buy-in by offering tools such as electronic site diaries as well as providing real time access to information and drawings to enable really effective briefings and communications. Smartcards for personnel that record essential training and induction information and provide swipe card access to work sites help ensure that everyone has the core training and skills to be able to work safe. We also consider wellbeing and mental health, these are just as crucial to ensure ‘Zero Harm’. It’s all about going beyond the rules and regulations to do what is needed, whatever your role in the project.
LU: Thanks, let’s take this forward. Once we’ve completed the build, what are some of the safety benefits that wireless connectivity can deliver?
MK: At BAI Communications we deliver high-quality communications infrastructure to transport networks in New York, Toronto and Hong Kong. The most visible result of our work in doing this is delivering connectivity for passengers – allowing them to have Wi-Fi and mobile/cellular access whilst using the underground. It is not just about enabling passengers to check emails or use social media channels, there’s a huge safety element to this connectivity.
There are two examples that spring to mind. In Canada, we’ve provided Wi-Fi connectivity to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) which enables their app-based reporting system, SafeTTC. Launched in 2017, it allows passengers to report harassment, assault and other offences direct to the TTC’s control centre. It’s quick and discreet and offers the ability to silently send photos and videos. This also supports the TTC’s efforts to reduce unnecessary use of alarms on trains.
Whilst in New York, Transit Wireless, a BAI Communications majority-owned company, built and operate an extensive wireless network for the city’s subway. Transit Wireless applied our network expertise to help New York City Transit (NYCT) and emergency first responders communicate more effectively with passengers through thousands of Help Point intercoms. These are placed on platforms and walkways across the network and enable passengers to place a direct call to emergency services at the NYCT’s Rail Control Center as well as an option for less critical inquiries, like travel information where they can connect directly to station agents. The network is future-proofed so can support the connection of additional devices, such public-address systems and as CCTV cameras.
LU: Thanks for those, sounds like they are making a real positive difference to passengers. The digital revolution has changed a lot in our industry, and we aren’t finished yet. How do you ensure that your projects remain safe today, and tomorrow?
MK: Creating a sustainable and positive safety culture as we construct our networks is critical, with this focus starting in safe design and through engagement with our workforce. We build our networks for the long term. This makes preparing for the future essential. Our networks are designed for person to person communication but with the implementation of 5G just around the corner, we are also planning for machine to machine, as this is becoming more important. We’ll also see an increase in self-maintaining machines, edge computing and the further proliferation of the Internet of Things, to name just a few developments. These will all bring new opportunities as well as fresh challenges. So, for us although we won’t know exactly what is around the corner, we do know that it will need faster higher capacity wireless networks and we are excited to be a part of delivering that.