At the time of writing in mid-September, registrations for Rail Wellbeing Live, which runs online on 7-9 November, had passed the 3,000 mark, setting a new record for early interest in this now well-established online event.
For the event’s new chair, Great Western Railway and Network Rail People and Transformation Director Ruth Busby, the excitement is palpable – and drawing on previous years’ experience, some important changes have been made.
The first is that this year, RWBL runs over three days rather than two. Despite all sessions being made available for registered attendees for a fortnight after the event, most users watch live. Running the sessions over three days means there are fewer overlapping events, making them more accessible to more people. There are also evening sessions night shift workers can watch without disturbing their sleep patterns.
As has become traditional, well-known personalities join experts from the health and wellbeing sector as well as the industry to offer advice and insight into better managing a wide range of issues from mental and physical health to fatigue, exercise, nutrition, finance and much, much more.
Dr Alex George is amongst the guest speakers, and he will talk about why he’s passionate about mental health and how people can curate their own mental health toolkits. Olympic rower Sir Steve Redgrave will outline the strategies he used to succeed and show how to apply them in all walks of life. He also touches on strategic thinking and mental discipline, leadership and teamwork as well as his recent battles with health issues.
As ever, RWBL opens with a panel discussion, this year focused on supporting young people’s mental health. Hosted by journalist and television presenter Kate Silverton, Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines will be joined by Young Rail Professionals Apprentice of the Year 2023 Lucy Davidson and Siemens Mobility Engineer Henda Moreso Grion to discuss what employers can do to support young employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Ms Busby points out that the average age of rail staff is now in the mid-40s and that attracting and looking after young people in the industry is critical for its future.
She adds that recent work undertaken by Samaritans for the rail industry has highlighted the scale of some of the challenges the railway faces. Rates of anxiety are 1.5 times higher than in the general population, while front line rail staff face higher exposure to trauma too. 61% have received verbal abuse, with 19% physically abused. 66% of rail staff surveyed said their mental health had been affected at work.
Rail Wellbeing Live has, from the outset, sought to help staff look after themselves and devise coping strategies for a wide range of issues. ‘Safety is always the railway’s number one priority, but you can’t have safety without the people to deliver it,’ says Ms Busby.
The human element is by far the most important reason why RWBL has generated such strong support from across the railway – few if any other sectors have developed such an initiative – but there is also a compelling commercial argument. For every pound spent by employers on staff wellbeing, a return of £5 is generated by having happier, healthier and more effective people in the business.
In addition to the advice and insight is the annual Wellbeing Hero Award, which anyone who registers before 29 September can nominate a colleague for. There is also a prize draw, and the winner of the awards will be announced on 7 November.
Ms Busby is adamant that since the event started in 2020 it has had a positive effect, pointing to the fact that the sessions have been viewed by staff from boardrooms to messrooms in all areas of the railway. ‘There is always more to do, but events like Rail Wellbeing Live are opening up aspects of health and wellbeing to discussion that a generation ago might never have been raised. Employers are taking their responsibilities to their staff more seriously than ever – and that combination of openness and genuine care is making a difference to people at all levels of the railway.’
To register for Rail Wellbeing Live, visit www.rwl2023.co.uk. Once registered, users can select sessions of interest and add them to calendars on computers and mobile devices to remind them of when they start. Questions can also be submitted in advance for 14 of the sessions.
Rail Wellbeing Live supporting organisations
• Angel Trains
• BAM Nuttall
• Eversholt Rail
• Govia Thameslink Railway
• Hitachi Rail
• Network Rail
• Office of Rail and Road
• Siemens Mobility
• West Midlands Railway