Network Rail

I was the Lead Visual Communication Consultant on Network Rail’s £multi-million programme to change work safety procedure in the rail industry. I led development of a visual language system and risk communication, working alongside risk management consultants and engaging front-line staff. Existing 'Safe System of Work' pack of lengthy text documents failed to adequately communicate safety-critical information to the 150,000 workforce  (many with low reading ability). Had learn a lot about the rail industry: its terminology, how it functions, its roles and disciplines. 

Analysed/reviewed existing materials; multiple meetings with on-track staff, planners and managers informed the structure, content and design of work permits and associated information. Network Rail aimed to inspire care and pride in the job by presenting information neatly and clearly. Logical content flow was debated with consultants, and layouts presented for testing and approval. This is a massive rail industry improvement project with government bodies and unions consulted at every stage.

My work also included simplifying and standardising terminology, designing infrastructure maps to display environmental and task risk symbology, devising a logical flow and clean format for planning forms, project leading sub-projects including sub-contracting technical staff, producing presentation materials for the Board, writing reports and next-step recommendations, and finally designing materials to engage the industry about the fundamental changes in working practice required by the 'Planning and Delivering Safe Work' (PADSW) Control of Work initiative.

Reference from Programme Manager: "[Kate's] work on the initial successful pilot in the Wessex Region helped to accelerate the programme to national level. Kate proved very able to work with frontline staff, management and risk management consultants to translate findings into a logical flow of clearly presented, pertinent information. She championed the principles of clarity throughout the many stages of the programme's development.

Network Rail research and consultation

kate parsons, network rail, wessex region, off-track, S&P

Design Communication is not just about the finished product! Commissioned at the start of the project I was part of moving the safety initiative from concept through design to implementation. The ethos was to have a bottom-up approach, based on trackside staff's inputs and requirements not board-level assumptions. I went out on track and gathered opinion and feedback through conversations with trackside staff, planners, and union officials. Translating their needs into a cohesive framework for presenting safety-critical information was carried out with Risk Management and Computer Programming experts. Our work and findings were passed to high risk industry software developers, Petrotechnics to further develop into a working system, fed by numerous existing rail databases, to raise the standards of worker safety for those undertaking daily maintenance tasks and multi-million pound enhancement and renewal projects.


Network Rail – visual safety-critical information development

East Anglia, Network Rail, Orbis, map, schematic, visual language, design

“A picture paints a thousand words, and that’s exactly what we found when we trialled the Control of Work process. Rather than pages of text like the ‘Safe System of Work’ packs, the Control of Work packs show immediately what you need to know. The maps especially are really good, there’s no unnecessary information, it’s focused on the specific risks associated with your task. It’s more focused and much better.”

Shaun Greenfield, Track Section Manager, Network Rail Barking Depot

Network Rail, high risk industries, safety-critical, planning and delivering safe work, control of work, Oliver WymanPetrotechnics, symbols, Network Rail, rail industry, COSS

These simple symbols belie the amount of consultation and development involved in devising a visual language that conveyed at-a-glance safety-critical information to a workforce with lower than average reading skills. I project managed the production of interim interactive maps, sourcing and sub-contracting a programmer in order to test the visual language in the field.

e-Permitting information flow and design

information design, permit, control of work, rail, high-risk

The design of both the visual language and the permitting paperwork developed through many iterations. Long consultations with risk management consultants, internal experts and trackside staff allowed me to understand the processes, risks and current safety measure; staff opinion, grievances, annoyances and preferences also helped shape the design and flow of the final materials.

Network Rail presentations for further project funding

The research I did as part of the ERP Delivery and Management Team (see my pyramid diagram) in conjunction with Risk Management Consultants represented a change in the working culture within Network Rail. Development of the new Control of Work processes for the railway industry neccessitated gaining approval from senior management as the project progressed. The presentation materials helped clarify complex processes and structures, aiding stakeholder buy-in at key stage meetings and wider consultation panels, to release next-stage funding and strengthen management support.

Project overview diagram

change management, risk management consultant, network rail, plan and deliver safe work, robin gisby

New process plan visualisation

visualisation of proposed control of work process

Visualisation of new roles and responsibilities within the safe stystem of work programme

new job roles diagram for rail worker safety

I wrote interim reports during the project as well as a final report to aid the next stage of the project – creating the electronic system to integrate control-of-work processes.

Network Rail: national rail safety project identity

A last stage to Network Rail's multi-million pound safety initiative was to design a logo to 'brand' the project as it was revealed to an industry audience.

Network Rail safety initiative publicity

Press ad, network rail, stuart browning, control of work, Rail Live

Development of branding and publicity materials for the safety initiative, including staff leaflets, exhibition materials and press adverts for industry publications.

“Kate, I think this is brilliant. Thank you.”

Martin Frobisher, Programme Director – Planning & Delivering Safe Work