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COVID: The impact of safety leadership interventions within rail infrastructure projects

Lookup NU author(s): Dr David GolightlyORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of a conference proceedings (inc. abstract) that has been published in its final definitive form by International Railway Safety Council, 2022.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic leaders of safety have been in the spotlight to respond to unprecedented challenges faced across the world. The rail sector itself has experienced profound change due to the impact of COVID on passenger numbers and the associated industry response. However, “despite the reduction in physical harm, 2020/21 saw a relatively high number of workforce fatalities” within the UK rail industry (RSSB 2021). One area of particular concern is the construction of rail projects where up to a third of all workforce harm is sustained by infrastructure workers (RSSB 2021). Infrastructure workers are exposed to many of the hazards associated with general construction work, as well as railway-specific hazards such as proximity to moving trains and unguarded electricity supplies. The combination of the pandemic and safety performance coincides with a safety and health in the workplace being given a high degree of attention rarely experienced by those in leadership positions. Prior to the pandemic there was a wealth of research identifying what ‘good’ safety leadership looked like, yet it is unclear whether these leadership interventions are still appropriate in a post-COVID world. Stiles et al 2021 identified a number of reasons (greater remote working, new ICT capabilities) that might have changed leadership practice. Therefore, there is an open question as to whether leadership practices have evolved, regressed or continued as before post-COVID. A survey has been conducted amongst leaders from the UK rail infrastructure projects to identify the safety leadership interventions deployed prior to and post COVID. A total of 26 different examples of safety leadership interventions from the UK rail infrastructure sector were reviewed, taken from a previous study (Stiles 2012). Follow up interviews with participants have explored the factors which may have resulted in the type of safety leadership interventions deployed, as well as those which are no longer being implemented. This study has identified that there are numerous safety leadership interventions being deployed within the rail infrastructure sector, some of which have been changed and adapted since COVID. Therefore it is concluded that well-established approaches to safety leadership may be worthy of a review in light of the pandemic and the challenges and opportunities for leaders of safety within a post-COVID world.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Stiles S, Golightly D

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: International Railway Safety Council (IRSC 2022)

Year of Conference: 2022

Online publication date: 16/10/2022

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 10/11/2022

Publisher: International Railway Safety Council