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Team player or a social loafer? HSQE Director, Gareth Morris, asks: How does social psychology impact safety in rail?

Rebekah Valero-Lee morson vital


When working in a team, do you ever sit back a bit and let someone else pick up the slack? If so, you might be guilty of being a social loafer. The term social loafer, refers to the sociological practice of individuals relying on others to take on work, rather than continuing to work hard themselves. They would, in fact, be working much harder if they were working alone.

So, in an industry such as rail safety where teamwork is vital to day-to-day business, how do you motivate everyone to stay at the top of their game? When the security of both passengers and fellow workers depends on all staff giving 100% at all times, HSQE Director Gareth Morris highlights that a half-hearted effort isn’t acceptable:

‘At Morson, our safety initiative, Work Safe, Home Safe, is defined by behavioural expectations. We cannot allow staff to be passive, simply giving their time when their heart’s not in it. Every interaction, be it a safety conversation, coaching or mentoring, must have power and meaning to drive the message home and avoid any social loafing.’

With regards to safety in rail, it’s essential that the output of the team is greater than the individuals within it. You have to be more than just a team member; your input has to count.

So, the current attitude towards rail safety needs to change. Recently, Bill Cooke, Head of Safety and Assurance IP Track at Network Rail provided training on the Close Call Champions (CCC) initiative to our group training manager, Matthew Leavis and the HSQE manager at Vital Human Resources, Dhiru Ghadia. By promoting the need for greater safety in the workplace, the CCC initiative aims to change behaviour within the industry as a whole.

Here at Morson, our group trainers will deliver similar sessions to our safety in rail staff throughout the country, inciting a positive culture change and deterring employees from slipping into the role of social loafer.

After last year’s Health Safety and Environmental Performance report which highlighted that in 2015 there were 34 incidents or close calls and two accidents, we’re taking a number of steps to action behavioural safety changes:

  • Vital Human Resources has invested in a new 24-hour contact centre to improve safety communication and incident response times within the rail industry.
  • There’s been an increase in the number of Vital Rail HSQE team meetings, making them more personal to help improve group conversation around health and safety.
  • In order to improve safety-related conversations amongst the workforce, Vital Human Resources’ senior management team are now carrying out regular on-site inspections to hear directly about safety issues from workers and action resolutions faster.
  • Morson Group are developing a brand new initiative utilising the latest technology that will further enhance safety conversations.

Inciting staff to become team players rather than social loafers isn’t always an easy transition, however increased focus on health and safety practices within the rail industry will help prevent us working passively in an industry that demands our full attention.

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