ORR’s Ian Prosser

STE­FANIE FOSTER meets IAN PROSSER, HM Chief In­spec­tor of Rail­ways, whose de­ter­mi­na­tion to make the rail­way a safe en­vi­ron­ment for pas­sen­gers, the pub­lic and staff has been recog­nised with a CBE and a lead­ing in­dus­try award

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

HM Chief In­spec­tor of Rail­ways IAN PROSSER is de­ter­mined to make the rail­way a safe en­vi­ron­ment for all.

There are plenty of rail­way per­son­al­i­ties who at­tract the lime­light, and de­servedly so. But oc­ca­sion­ally there is a dark horse whose achieve­ments and com­mit­ment to the in­dus­try go un­der the radar.

In 2018, one such man’s ef­forts over the past decade were fi­nally recog­nised. Ian Prosser CBE is HM Chief In­spec­tor of Rail­ways and Di­rec­tor of Rail­way Safety for the Of­fice of Rail and Road, which must be one of the long­est job ti­tles on the rail­way. And as only the 25th holder of the ti­tle of Chief In­spec­tor for Her Majesty’s Rail­way In­spec­torate (in 178 years), he holds a his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant po­si­tion.

He took up his role in 2008, af­ter a ca­reer in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try, and he has been on a mis­sion to trans­form safety on the rail­way ever since.

His suc­cess in do­ing so earned him the award of a CBE in the Queen’s Birth­day Hon­ours in July, and RAIL’s Na­tional Rail Award for Out­stand­ing Per­sonal Con­tri­bu­tion (Se­nior Man­age­ment) in Septem­ber.

When RAIL caught up with him re­cently, Prosser was hum­ble about his achieve­ments. He con­fesses he has not al­ways been sure whether he’s mak­ing a dif­fer­ence…

“When you’ve been in a role a long time, and you have your ups and downs in terms of what’s go­ing on in the sec­tor, some­times you won­der if you’re mak­ing any progress or not,” he says.

“But if you keep at it, it shows the div­i­dends of longevity and ex­pe­ri­ence. Lots of peo­ple these days seem to be in jobs for short pe­ri­ods of time. But if you’re go­ing to make a re­ally big dif­fer­ence - and you’re go­ing to move a su­per tanker, which is what I’ve been try­ing to do re­ally - you need to be con­sis­tent. And that re­ally helps if you have the same per­son at the top.”

De­spite not hav­ing al­ways been in the lime­light, Prosser does have a strong voice in the in­dus­try and he is clear about his opin­ions on im­por­tant is­sues. When he first took on the role of chief in­spec­tor, he set out a ro­bust and un­wa­ver­ing vi­sion that there should be zero work­force and in­dus­try-caused fa­tal­i­ties of pas­sen­gers or the pub­lic. In 2016, that vi­sion be­came a re­al­ity for the first time.

“I think some peo­ple thought a reg­u­la­tor couldn’t do that - think­ing: ‘What’s a reg­u­la­tor do­ing set­ting vi­sions and goals for his in­dus­try? Shouldn’t he just reg­u­late?’”

Prosser ex­plains that he sees reg­u­la­tion as partly be­ing about pro­vid­ing as­sur­ance to the pub­lic and work­force that they are not go­ing to get hurt. By set­ting a vi­sion for com­pa­nies in the in­dus­try to work to­wards, that re­as­sur­ance to the pub­lic be­comes eas­ier to achieve.

“I think it’s very im­por­tant that reg­u­la­tors add value by help­ing the in­dus­try to move in the right di­rec­tion, and then us­ing all the tools you have as a reg­u­la­tor to make that hap­pen.

“For ex­am­ple, en­force­ment is im­por­tant. I’ve en­cour­aged my team to use en­force­ment in the right place at the right time - not ag­gres­sively, but when it’s needed, and con­sis­tently. They don’t all make the head­lines, but while you can en­cour­age en­gi­neer­ing so­lu­tions and ed­u­ca­tion, some­times you also need to use en­force­ment.”

Prosser is keen to chal­lenge the tra­di­tional view that reg­u­la­tors are not proac­tive, but re­ac­tive. He is a proac­tive reg­u­la­tor, look­ing for change on the rail­way where he iden­ti­fies po­ten­tial risks - be­fore in­ci­dents hap­pen, as op­posed to sim­ply reg­u­lat­ing them af­ter­wards.

He con­tin­ues: “I’m a firm be­liever - and not all reg­u­la­tors are like this - that you are judged as a reg­u­la­tor on the per­for­mance of the sec­tor. So I don’t think you can walk away. I talk to or­di­nary peo­ple in the pub and on the rail­way, in­clud­ing lots of pas­sen­gers, and they do see their reg­u­la­tor as be­ing some­one who should be mak­ing sure that we pro­tect the in­ter­ests of the pas­sen­gers, the pub­lic and the work­force, both now and in the longer term. If per­for­mance is bad, as it is at the mo­ment in terms of punc­tu­al­ity, then you have to ac­cept that you need to take some of the flak for that.”

Part of tak­ing that flak is about vis­i­bil­ity and un­der­stand­ing, so Prosser spends as much time as he can out on the rail­way. And his in­spec­tors are re­quired to do the same - he wasn’t happy with the idea that in­spec­tors were spend­ing large pro­por­tions of their time sit­ting at a desk, rather than in the en­vi­ron­ment they are sup­posed to be reg­u­lat­ing.

“When I first joined, I set out to make us more proac­tive - to get us out and about more. I set a tar­get of 50% in­spec­tor time on the ground, and I think that’s helped us in terms of get­ting us vis­i­bil­ity - talk­ing to peo­ple, be­ing proac­tive, not just in­ves­ti­gat­ing the events af­ter­wards.” Does he achieve that tar­get? Prosser gives a re­sound­ing yes. He ex­plains that this is one of the Of­fice of Rail and Road’s (ORR’s) pub­lished key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors, so it’s im­por­tant that the pub­lic can hold them to ac­count on it, be­cause the ORR is ac­count­able to Par­lia­ment and Par­lia­ment is elected by the pub­lic.

The May timetable de­ba­cle il­lus­trated per­fectly his feel­ings on this sub­ject. Prosser and his in­spec­tors made sev­eral trips to build a pic­ture of what was go­ing on, and they are still look­ing into some of the is­sues now. He be­lieves it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand what has changed, why peo­ple feel the way they do, and to have some em­pa­thy with them - de­spite the prob­lems not di­rectly be­ing the fault of the ORR. Prosser vol­un­teered to lead the ORR’s

Prior Role Re­view, which was pub­lished in Septem­ber. The pur­pose of this re­view was to de­velop a full un­der­stand­ing of ORR’s in­volve­ment in (and reg­u­la­tory over­sight of) the devel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of projects and timetable pro­cesses lead­ing

to the May timetable changes. The re­view was asked (if nec­es­sary) to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the ORR board on how ORR can con­tin­u­ously im­prove its reg­u­la­tory ac­tiv­i­ties, on the ba­sis of the anal­y­sis of the ev­i­dence.

Prosser ex­plains: “Al­though it’s dif­fi­cult, it’s very im­por­tant - and the ORR Board re­alised this - to ac­tu­ally own up to what you could have done bet­ter and then have an ac­tion plan to learn from your mis­takes. We do this in health and safety reg­u­la­tion all the time, and when there’s an in­ci­dent that the RAIB [Rail Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Branch] also in­ves­ti­gates, they look at how ORR has per­formed. It’s some­thing we’ve al­ways done af­ter a sig­nif­i­cant in­ci­dent.

“It’s about try­ing to be open, hon­est, and look­ing for con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment. You’re not go­ing to make huge leaps overnight, but it’s about con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment of what the in­dus­try does and what we do as a reg­u­la­tor as well. I made lots of rec­om­men­da­tions in the

Prior Role Re­view, and I’m also do­ing it with my team now to make im­prove­ments to our in­ves­ti­ga­tion process.”

Linked to that are the pri­or­i­ties that Prosser has for the in­dus­try, which he ac­tu­ally wrote be­fore the May timetable is­sues - de­spite their ob­vi­ous rel­e­vance to them now. His main con­cern sur­rounds the pres­sure on the sys­tem as a re­sult of the in­dus­try’s poor per­for­mance, and the knock-on ef­fects such as more staff be­ing needed on sta­tions and drivers see­ing more red sig­nals. All of those ele­ments can pro­duce con­se­quences else­where in the sys­tem that Prosser wor­ries will have an im­pact on safety.

“We re­ally have to get to the bot­tom of why per­for­mance has con­tin­ued to de­te­ri­o­rate. Ev­ery­one talks about re­ac­tionary de­lays, but it’s a re­ally im­por­tant is­sue for the sec­tor be­cause it could start to have a neg­a­tive im­pact on safety, which is a real con­cern for me.

“We’re get­ting new trains, new equip­ment, new work­ing prac­tices. So there is a lot of change man­age­ment, and we’ve not been very good at some of this so far - as we saw in May. We have to up our game on change man­age­ment and, if nec­es­sary, take longer to do things in a more mea­sured way, so that we get it right. Let’s have plans that we can truly de­liver and take our peo­ple along with us.”

This is a sub­ject Prosser has spo­ken about be­fore, in re­la­tion to the spate of strikes on the rail­way, and it links to his sec­ond pri­or­ity for the in­dus­try - cul­ture, in­clud­ing the health and well­be­ing of rail staff. He has given a num­ber of speeches in the in­dus­try lately, and in all of them he has tried to talk about us­ing health pro­grammes (both men­tal and phys­i­cal) to get bet­ter en­gage­ment with staff.

“If peo­ple feel that you care about them, then they will be more en­gaged. And we need them to be en­gaged, be­cause they are a vi­tal link to our per­for­mance.

“In many ways, the front­line rail­way staff are hold­ing the rail­way to­gether, and we need to look af­ter them. If we make changes, we need to make sure they un­der­stand why and are in­volved in the process. If nec­es­sary, take a bit more time so that it works prop­erly.

“It is bet­ter to get some­thing work­ing re­ally well when it starts, than have it fin­ished on time and then it be a fi­asco in terms of per­for­mance. That doesn’t help any­one. Get it right and peo­ple will un­der­stand that it might take longer. What they don’t un­der­stand is when you say there might be a few de­lays, and then there are loads - that’s when they get re­ally frus­trated and an­noyed.”

Prosser be­lieves that we don’t spend enough time as an in­dus­try think­ing about what we should be do­ing - we don’t plan well enough at the be­gin­ning, and take ac­tion too fast.

It is this level of com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the rail­way that has made him so suc­cess­ful in chang­ing safety cul­ture and per­for­mance. And that led to this year’s per­sonal achieve­ments, with the award of a CBE in July fol­lowed by the Na­tional Rail Award for Out­stand­ing Per­sonal Con­tri­bu­tion (Se­nior Man­age­ment)

the job a year or so, but has al­ready done two en­force­ments which are very strong pieces of work. She is a fu­ture po­ten­tial chief in­spec­tor.”

Prosser’s team at ORR is de­vel­op­ing into a very di­verse set of in­di­vid­u­als - 50% of all new re­cruits are women, mean­ing that 30% of the to­tal work­force is now fe­male. All the trainee in­spec­tor as­sis­tants who were re­cruited last year were women.

But it is Prosser’s de­scrip­tion of the me­mories that stay with him, from his decade as chief in­spec­tor, that re­ally high­light why his pur­suit of safety on the rail­way re­mains so un­re­lent­ing.

On De­cem­ber 3 2005, Char­lotte Thomp­son (13) and Olivia Ba­zlin­ton (14) were hit by a train at a level cross­ing in Elsen­ham (Es­sex). Net­work Rail was fined £1 mil­lion and or­dered to pay costs of £ 60,015, fol­low­ing pros­e­cu­tion for breaches of health and safety law which led to the two deaths.

Says Prosser: “One of my last­ing me­mories that will stay with me for­ever was in the court­room when we pros­e­cuted Net­work Rail for Elsen­ham, which was a case I re­opened, caus­ing a lot of stir at the time be­cause it had been closed. The two mums were sit­ting there with a teddy bear each from their two daugh­ters when they were younger. Daugh­ters they’d now lost. That re­ally brings it home to you, what the hu­man as­pect of what we do is all about. I still think about that very very of­ten, and that will never leave me.” they were talk­ing about him!

“I didn’t think this was the sort of award that would be given to a reg­u­la­tor. That was quite touch­ing ac­tu­ally, to be recog­nised by what is an im­pres­sive set of judges. I felt quite emo­tional about it re­ally.”

The NRA’s Out­stand­ing Per­sonal Con­tri­bu­tion award for Se­nior Man­age­ment is unique in the way it is nom­i­nated at the ‘Rail­way Os­cars’. Judges per­son­ally nom­i­nate in­di­vid­u­als, and a se­cret bal­lot of all judges then takes place to choose the win­ner. Prosser was this year’s stand-out choice.

“I was very moved. But as I move beyond my ten years, those pri­or­i­ties I’ve talked about are very im­por­tant. We have to re­main vig­i­lant, keep our eyes on the ball, and move on­wards.”

Prosser is also proud of the way he is strength­en­ing the skills of his team for the long term.

“We now have a struc­ture in place that en­ables some­body com­ing in as an 18-year-old ad­min­is­tra­tor to pro­fes­sion­ally de­velop into do­ing my job. And what’s re­ally nice is that we have peo­ple go­ing through those steps at dif­fer­ent paces, many of whom started on the bot­tom rung.

“For ex­am­ple, I have a young woman work­ing for me who joined us in Birm­ing­ham not long af­ter I started. She is now a trainee in­spec­tor who is go­ing great guns! She re­cently passed her ex­ams first time round, which is quite un­usual. She has only been in in Septem­ber.

So, how did he feel when he found out he was go­ing to re­ceive a CBE?

“Quite a few pub­lic ser­vants might get an MBE af­ter do­ing ten years in a role, but when I saw it was a CBE I was over­whelmed, and ac­tu­ally cried. But you can’t tell any­one straight­away, be­cause you have to re­ply and say you’re go­ing to ac­cept it, so it was sev­eral weeks be­fore it was an­nounced.

“Af­ter it was an­nounced, what was then very over­whelm­ing was the num­ber of good wishes I re­ceived. I have a stack of nice let­ters from across the in­dus­try and from my old col­leagues. I guess I didn’t think that I was so well thought-of.

“It was re­ally good for my team, too, be­cause with­out them I wouldn’t have achieved it. So they are very proud, be­cause they are also proud to be part of the HMRI [Her Majesty’s Rail­way In­spec­torate], and we still call our­selves that re­ally! Be­cause we have a long his­tory - the HMRI has been around for 178 years now.”

Just two months af­ter his CBE was an­nounced, Prosser sat in the Great Room at Lon­don’s Grosvenor House Ho­tel on Septem­ber 13, lis­ten­ing to BBC pre­sen­ter Steph McGovern and RAIL Man­ag­ing Edi­tor Nigel Har­ris speak to an au­di­ence of 1,100 guests about the chief in­spec­tor’s sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments over the past decade.

Prosser says it took him a while to re­alise


An emo­tional night for Ian Prosser CBE, HM Chief In­spec­tor of Rail­ways and Di­rec­tor of Rail­way Safety at the ORR, as he col­lects RAIL’s Na­tional Rail Award for Out­stand­ing Per­sonal Con­tri­bu­tion (Se­nior Man­age­ment) on Septem­ber 13. He stands with BBC pre­sen­ter and NRA host Steph McGovern and RAIL Man­ag­ing Edi­tor and Events Di­rec­tor Nigel Har­ris.

Source: An­nual Health and Safety Re­port of Per­for­mance on Bri­tain’s rail­ways: 201718, July 17 2018, ORR.

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