Conflict Management at Northern Rail
As part of the Northern Rail drive to develop and deliver customer service excellence, Northern Rail recognised that the majority of front line railway staff encounter anti-social behaviour directed at them by customers at some point in their career. According to the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), over the last 5 years, over 2000 physical assaults by customers to rail staff have been reported, whilst over 2500 verbal abuse and threats have been recorded. Additional, unreported incidents are agreed to be at much higher levels. Northern Rail wanted t4c to provide development and support to its front line staff to enable the threat of workplace violence to be reduced, to build competence in staff to enable them to prevent and handle potential conflict situations effectively and to build confidence when facing these situations. Northern Rail also wanted to encourage a culture of personal responsibility, and an understanding that proactive positive behaviour can influence the development and outcome of potentially difficult situations.
The Stay Safe programme was delivered to Train Conductors and brought some of the challenging customer behaviours faced on trains into the classroom. As a direct result of the programme the rates for physical and verbal assaults began to diverge once the course started, with physical assaults accounting for less and less of the total. The steady increase in physical assaults was arrested and reversed whilst the verbal assault rate continued to climb.
Normally we would expect these two rates to parallel each other. The fact that they do not, and that the physical assault rate is either steady or falling slightly, suggests that measures included in Stay Safe kept the level of physical assault in check. Verbal assaults rose from an average of 37 per month to 56, but the average physical assault rate only rose from 14 to 17 per month over the same period. Conductors are better able to mitigate assaults and keep them at the level of verbal abuse rather than them escalating into a full blown confrontation.