Clear communication is the key to saving lives on rail networks

Having a casual chat with your colleagues about their plans for the weekend or the results of your favourite sporting code is all part of being a team, but when it comes to the operations and actions that can affect our safety and that of our colleagues, the public or the railway, then our communication is safety critical.

Programmed has hundreds of employees working every day across Rail Networks in Australia and New Zealand, helping keep industry and people moving. Professional, safety critical communication is key to keeping everyone safe.

Four key principles of Safety Critical Comms

What is safety critical communications?

All operational communication by front-line staff is considered ‘safety critical’.

Safety Critical Communications is any communication that, if not delivered or not delivered accurately or promptly, could result in serious injury, or sadly even death, or incur significant damage to property, infrastructure or the environment.

Safety Critical Communications are essential in helping our rail networks across Australia and New Zealand operate safely and helps ensure that all rail personnel are kept safe while on the job

Four key principles that we apply to safety critical communications.


  • Plan your verbal communication
  • Use a professional tone – even if you are mates, the tone needs to be professional and not casual
  • Remember your ABC’s – Be Accurate, Be Brief, Be Clear
  • Speak slowly
  • Use the phonetic alphabet as required
  • Be concise and be confident – say what you mean
  • Stay focussed on the facts and only share information that’s relevant to the activity
  • If the message is interrupted, start the communication again
  • Use the correct protocols


  • Ask the receiver to ‘repeat back’ your communication
  • Use active listening when your message is being relayed – do not get distracted
  • Identify any misunderstandings
  • Use the phonetic alphabet as required
  • The process of repeating back a message (saying it out loud and in our own words) helps us to process the information more deeply and is more likely that we’ll remember what has been said when the communication has ended


  • That the receiver has correctly repeated back the information
  • That both parties understand and agree to the action to be taken
  • Prepare to act based on the agreed information


  • Commence work as agreed by both parties
  • Monitor tasks/work/environment to ensure that nothing has changed
  • If anything changes the task/work must STOP, and start the communication process again to ensure that all parties have relevant, up-to-date information to effectively manage all aspects of maintaining a safe work environment

Have you or anyone you know been involved in an incident that could have been prevented with clearer communication?

‘You’ve got one to cross’, said the Handsignaller to a driver of a car as they were approaching a rural crossing, meaning that there was one more train to go before they could drive across the rural level crossing. The driver immediately drove over the crossing, assuming they had one minute to do so. The train missed the driver. The driver was lucky, and the Handsignaller learned a lesson.

Just like in life, when we aren’t clear about what we mean, people can get hurt. Being clear and concise when providing instructions on safety is critical. And it’s not all the responsibility of the lead communicator. It’s important for receivers to ensure they have understood the instructions and are clear about their role.

Tips for being an active listener:

  • If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
  • Practice listening in everyday conversations to help you get better at it.
  • Ask clarifying questions if you are unclear on anything or you need more information: ‘Could you repeat that?’
  • Keep your questions neutral (that is, not aggressive), and clear and simple: think about what you want to ask and ask one question at a time.
  • After you have asked the question keep quiet and wait for the answer. It prevents you from immediately asking another question and indicates to the respondent that a response is required.  
  • Ask whether you have missed something or if they have anything to add.

We all have a responsibility to communicate well and when safety is involved we all have a role to play. Remember, unsafe actions can affect us all. A moment of distraction can change your life forever

Let’s all Stay Rail Safe.

Programmed is a leading provider of Rail Personnel across Australia and New Zealand.


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About Programmed

Programmed is a leading provider of operations and maintenance services across Australia and New Zealand. Our business model is built around our ability to recruit, deploy, manage and maintain a large, directly employed workforce of professional, skilled and semi-skilled staff with a wide range of capabilities. We are proud to efficiently serve more than 10,000 customers every day.

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