A safe work leader is the person with overall responsibility for the safety of all planned work on Network Rail worksites.

He or she will manage operational and task safety risks when working on the rail infrastructure.

There will only ever be one person undertaking the role of safe work leader (SWL) on each work site.

Depending on the activities, the safe work leader may be supported by task leaders / COSS (controllers of site safety). A task leader / COSS is the person responsible for carrying out a particular job / task within a worksite in a possession.

The SWL will be involved in planning the tasks and will be important in deciding whether any late changes to the plan can be accepted.

The safe work leader issues the 'parent' permit to work; the 'child' permits are managed by the team leader or COSSAll work on or near the line, and any work which poses a risk to the safe running of the operational railway, will require an SWL and a permit to work. Permits will be issued for each activity before work starts.


There are three levels of SWL

Level 1
  • A SWL1 can lead a team on an open line, in a line blockage or on or near the lineside. If there are two or more SWL1s who need a line blockage, a protection controller will take overall control of the shared line blockage.
Level 2
  • A SWL2 can plan and manage a worksite within a possession: they will lead and manage the risks of multiple tasks and how they interface. A task leader will lead each work area.
Level 3
  • If the work is too big and complex, a SWL3 will be the safe work manager (SWM) on site. They will appoint an engineering supervisor to do the duties of the rule book.


There are also other competencies to support the safe work leader roles:

  • Planner
  • Authorising authority
  • Route control
  • Individual working


When will the safe work leader system start on work sites?

The safe work leader system is being implemented in phases. The pilot in the east Midlands is the only area to go live so far. Network Rail is reviewing the lessons learned from the east Midlands before the safe work leader system is rolled out across the rest of the UK.

Why are we having the new SWL system?

These changes by Network Rail aim to improve safety – it is committed to eliminating workforce fatalities and all major injuries. Network Rail decided to introduce the SWL as a single accountable person after investigations into incidents, and comparing rail to the way safety is managed in other industries.

Network Rail plans to

  • standardise the process of working on Network Rail infrastructure
  • reduce the risks of injury
  • make responsibilities clearer
  • improve communication
  • understand risks and safety controls better
  • standardise risk assessments and safety controls
  • make people more competent.


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