23 November 2020
Safety is extremely important for anyone involved in working on the railways. Signalling Technician Mohamed Karroum explains how safety is intertwined with his work.
Safety on the railways is not only about my health and that of my colleagues, it’s also about passenger safety
I always report first to the responsible safety officer before setting off for work. I ask for safety instructions. We need to know exactly which section is taken out of service. In addition, my colleagues and I always complete an LMRA, a last minute risk analysis, asking ourselves the following questions: Is it clear what I am expected to do? Do I have the right documents? Do I have the right tools and personal protective equipment? Is my workplace safe? If the answer to any one of these questions is ‘no’, I don’t start working. In that case I first consult the construction supervisor and the workplace safety supervisor (WSS) about the measures I need to implement to ensure that everything is safe. I can only start working once everything is arranged in a safe way.
People working in an office probably won’t give much thought to a safe workplace. It’s not their focus, which is logical. That is totally different for those working on the railways. I am happy that safety comes first at Strukton Rail sites. We have a culture in which we voice our concerns and correct the behaviour of others when needed. When I see a colleague who is not wearing a helmet, I tell him to wear his helmet and he readily accepts this. We are currently keeping a 1.5 metre distance from others. Health is highly important as well, after all. Talking about health: When someone near me lights up a cigarette, I ask him to move a bit away from me, because I can’t stand smoke.
Safety on the railways is not only about my health and that of my colleagues, it’s also about passenger safety. Before returning a track section back to service, we must be completely certain that all components of the train safety system are working properly. We use the acceptance protocol (ACP) to check this. In the case of a signal, we test the cables, align the sign, measure the supply and signal voltage, regulate the lamp voltage and test the signal colours. The tracks won’t be returned to service until the signals function as required. Operators must be confident that everything in and around the tracks is working well and safely. That is why it is important for all components to be tested.
My preference would be to conduct all tests without the pressure of a deadline, but that’s not how things work in the railway world. We often work in out-of-service periods of three days or longer. Generally, the tracks must then be returned to service by 5 o’clock on Monday morning so that train service can resume without any delays. Before the tracks are returned to service, my colleagues and I work all out to get everything ready on time. We test the signals, switches, level crossings and tracks. In principle the schedule provides for sufficient time for this, but we are also dependent on other disciplines within Strukton Rail. We won’t be able to perform the tests until the tracks are clear of any equipment. In the end everything comes together. We then have to wait for the first train. Two technicians are on standby to take immediate action in the unlikely event that there is a malfunction at that point.
I can recall one incident in which I was the cause of a malfunction. We always isolate our work place from the power supply during an out-of-service period. But we do preparatory work prior to that. I had dropped a nut in a relay box, which ended up precisely between two links. The nut caused the two links to connect, as a result of which the level crossing closed. Fortunately I found the problem and was able to quickly resolve it. But it was a wakeup call showing that I always have to think carefully about what I am doing and about the possible consequences. So that’s what I do: I take my work very seriously and I always aim to have everything in a perfect way.
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