Concourse of Dundee station with one person

Supporting mental health in the UK rail industry

The deserted concourse of Dundee Station Rail Delivery Group

Colas Rail UK is using the Railway Mental Health Charter to enhance the mental health of its employees. That’s just one of the many example cases of implementation of the RMHC throughout the industry. The project is an initiative of the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), the membership body created by legislation to assist the rail industry in improving the safety and efficiency of the rail system in the UK.

The RMHC initiative one of their easily implemented initiatives that is helping support those who work in the railway industry. The Board says it’s a simple framework that covers the areas that companies should already be doing to support mental health. Rail freight and infrastructure support specialist Colas Rail UK already had a wellbeing policy, but signing up to the RMHC helped them demonstrate their commitment and accountability to enhancing mental health.

Part of their corporate culture

Senior staff at the rail freight operator used the action planner included in the charter to identify what the company was already doing and to determine the areas that required attention. The flexibility of the Railway Mental Health Charter allowed Colas Rail to adapt it to their needs, resulting in the development of a company-specific wellbeing charter, which they launched in April of last year (2022). Their Wellbeing Charter contains eight health and wellbeing themes that include mental health, work-life balance, return to work, prevention of fatigue and stress, physical activity, energy and nutrition, and career lifecycles.

Man in a high visibility jacket talking in a comforting manner to a depressed individual
Network Rail recently ran a support programme called Small Talk Saves Lives. Image: Network Rail

Now, as part of their corporate culture, Colas Rail uses monthly wellbeing cascades to update employees on mental health developments, including webinars and conversations that are relevant to mental health and stress discussions. Colas Rail has also delivered webinars on leaders’ briefings and conversation guides internationally. That means they can enable frontline managers to have conversations with their teams about mental health.

Finding a starting point

The company has taken a steady approach to mental health. Colas Rail has recognised the difficulties of applying the Wellbeing Charter to all countries. It’s been especially challenging in those cultures not comfortable with discussing mental health. To overcome this, they communicate with individual businesses and work with them to decide one or two themes that would be easier to implement as a starting point. That slow build up and drip-feed has been live for the past four years. Colas Rail has been using several mental health measures, including health surveillance, high-level absence data, and an employee assistance programme, to raise the mental health and wellbeing of colleagues across the entire corporation.

Freight locomotive with the nameplate You Are Never Alone
In recognition of mental health and wellbeing issues on the railway and at large, UK operator Freightliner named one of their locomotives You Are Never Alone. Image: Freightliner

The main challenge in implementing the RMHC is the time required to change the business culture. Colas has tackled this issue by beginning with areas of the business that are more advanced in their mental health understanding, and then communicating the changes and successes within those teams to the rest of the company to influence everyone gradually. The adoption of the new Wellbeing Charter using the RMHC is a significant step in the steady process towards change.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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