KORAIL, Korea's national railway operator, made another leap in the quality of its safety management in the first half of this year, on top of a significant improvement last year. This is thanks largely to the tangible results produced by its so-called Omnibearing Proactive Safety Management System (OPSMS).

After posting the lowest accident and incident rate in its history in 2012, Korail achieved a further 7.1% reduction in the first half of 2013, compared with the same period the previous year, while the failure rate of the high-speed train fleet dropped by 24% during the same period. Lloyd's Register Rail, an international risk management organisation which reviewed and audited Korail's safety management system, confirmed that it generally complies with international practice for safety management systems, and that there are many examples of good safety practice within Korail.

KTX-lineupOPSMS is designed to improve the safety of train operations by expanding the scope of safety management. This includes monitoring and eliminating the minor signs of potential risk as well as the risks associated with large projects and important policies, and taking effective precautionary measures to minimise all types of risk that could lead to accidents or incidents.

Korail's system of consistent safety assessment by a third party has proven to be highly effective in managing the safety of many projects. Korail's Advanced Safety Assessment system makes an advanced diagnosis of the factors undermining the safety of train operation through an objective assessment process from the planning stage.

Before this system was introduced, Korail incurred unnecessary costs and safety risks because safety reviews were performed at the project execution stage. However, the new system introduced a mandatory process of assessing risk factors associated with major projects from the planning stage, so that they could be detected in advance and action taken before project execution. In 2012, Korail performed a safety assessment of 414 projects and eliminated 2598 risk factors.

Korail encouraged its employees to identify, analyse and assess potential risk factors at different sites and devised customised safety measures appropriate to each site. This helped to foster a safety culture among employees and laid the foundation for Korail's safety management system.

The Enterprise Safety Task is a system where employees with the strongest knowledge of their site take the initiative to identify and assess risk factors, such as site safety risks and facilities vulnerable to safety issues. They then manage the risk factors by designating them as safety tasks classified by risk level, field, and period. When implementing the tasks, the sites report their progress to regional headquarters, which in turn report to the head office. The status of tasks is analysed and monitored each month. In 2012, 8125 tasks were developed, out of which 6779 were completed.

This system was developed by Korail to ensure the safe operation of trains by systematically analysing and managing the minor signs of potential risks that could lead to accidents and incidents. In 2012, 13,616 items of data were gathered. Out of these, 44 risk factors requiring urgent attention were detected and removed.

A concerted effort to tackle human error has also been taken along with improvements in safety management. Last year, Korail set up Korea's first human error research committee, consisting of 18 outside experts in the fields of human error, ergonomics, mental health, and sport science. Based on consultation with the committee, Korail established a company-wide strategic management with the aim of finding the fundamental causes of human error, previously considered as personal mistakes, and developed effective measures to resolve them.

The committee developed 25 improvements based on its analysis of past accidents, site inspections, interviews, job analysis, and employee surveys. Other improvements were implemented as part of the company-wide safety management master plan, such as better shift planning, a design standard for the driver's cab based on ergonomics, an improved signal indication method, the incorporation of GPS, development of a manual for dealing with emergencies, and training for the implementation of the measures.

As a result, the incidence of human error decreased by 41% in the first half of 2013 compared with the corresponding period of 2012, along with a 50% drop in trains overshooting platforms. Furthermore, with a 14% reduction in the number of industrial accidents from 52 to 45 over the same period, Korail was awarded the Best Practice in Industrial Safety and Health Award by the Korean government.

The incidence of human error is expected to drop further following the opening of a Human Safety Centre on June 28. The centre will focus on improving employee mental health care, conducting in-depth research into the causes of human error, and the effective application of research findings. The centre is currently developing an improved aptitude test, and providing employees with therapy to relieve job stress.

Fewer failures

Korail has also seen a significant reduction in the failure rate of its high-speed trains, which is one of the major indicators of rolling stock safety. The failure rate for KTX high-speed trains stands at 0.026 compared with a low-point of 0.052 in 2009, which means that the trains have become twice as safe (Figure 1). The figure for KTX-Sancheon, Korea's locally-produced high-speed train, is slightly higher at 0.195 and represents a seven-fold reduction from 1.376 in 2010.Korail-Fig1

To eliminate risk factors at the design and manufacturing stages, Korail has established a system of close cooperation with the rolling stock manufacturer. As a result it requested technical improvements to 10 major components and undertook intensive management of rolling stock from the design stage. Korail also increased the distance required for test running new rolling stock from 35,000km to 180,000km. Test running was monitored closely and the manufacturer was notified of any issues found to seek a joint solution.

As a result, the 50 KTX-Sancheon trains which entered service in 2012 recorded zero accidents and incidents for the first 100 days of operation. The overall failure rate of KTX-Sancheon also fell 42% in 2012. In the first half of 2013, the rate dropped to a third compared with 2004, when Korail launched its first high-speed services, while the size of the fleet has increased 2.4 times over the same period.

Train delays, a major source of inconvenience to passengers, have been cut by 59% from the first half of 2011 to the first half of this year (Figure 2). This has led to improved customer satisfaction, while the brand value of KTX jumped 63 places from 80th in 2011 to 17th in the first half of 2013.

Korail-Fig2The stabilisation of Korail's high-speed fleet has enabled Korail to regain public trust in its safety and punctuality, which in turn has improved performance, and the figures speak for themselves. The number of daily trips by Korail's high-speed train fleet increased by 33% from 181 in March 2010 to 241 in May 2013. Maximum daily revenue from high-speed operations almost doubled from about $US 3.4m in 2005 to $US 6.4m in 2013. Finally, revenue grew by more than 10% from the first half of 2012 to the first half of this year and is expected to expand steadily in the future.