Eurostar’s OH department uses a proactive approach to innovate ideas and
provide a comprehensive range of services covering all aspects of the health of
its staff, by Elizabeth Harvey and Julia Wason
After many decades of deliberation, construction for a Channel tunnel began
in 1987. In 1994, Eurostar services started, initially with high speed, passenger-only
trains between London and Paris and Brussels. Within a short time Eurostar
firmly established its position as leader on the London to Paris and London to
Brussels air/rail markets – a position it has maintained and strengthened.
In 1999 Eurostar Group was formed to provide a centralised management to
determine commercial strategy and development of the product and service.
The service was, and continues to be operated by railways from the three
countries it serves – in the UK, by the private company Eurostar (UK), and in
France and Belgium by their national railways SNCF and SNCB respectively.
Together they provide around 60 services daily. These run from London and
Ashford in Kent to the European capitals with Lille and Calais Frethun en route.
Services also operate direct to Disneyland Paris and to the ski resorts of the
The British operating arm, Eurostar (UK), employs 1,500 people of various
nationalities who work at the international terminals at Waterloo and Ashford,
North Pole International Depot, Ashford Call Centre and offices in London.
A high percentage of customer service and safety critical staff are required
to speak more than one language. Train drivers require a minimum of five years
driving experience on national railways before joining Eurostar.
They then have an extensive training programme including French language
tuition to enable them to drive trains on international routes. A high
percentage of staff work shift systems and travel regularly between Paris and
There are mandatory medical standards for particular categories of
occupations both for those employed and for potential employees. These
categories include drivers, train managers, engineering staff, and all other
employees who work in safety critical positions.
Background of the OH service
The occupational health service is managed as a job share between the
authors who both have 15 years experience in occupational health, and both of
whom have worked within commercial, educational, and railway environments. They
are used to working with a high degree of autonomy within a safety critical
business and have found sharing the job to be beneficial in many ways, such as
learning from each other’s strengths and solving problems by encouraging each
other to think laterally. As Savage puts it, "Good communication skills
are fundamental to successful job sharing"1.
Other key elements are to plan and organise time and workload effectively
through handover procedures, to be flexible and to agree and present a united
view on issues.
They provide peer supervision to each other on a day-to-day basis and
acknowledge the need to obtain independent supervision to enhance their
professional development and practice. To this end they attend clinical
supervision on a monthly basis.
Within the framework of Eurostar (UK) human resources the aim is to provide
an occupational health service for all employees that attains the highest
professional standards possible and where there is a commitment to best
practice in occupational health nursing. In order to achieve this aim a
comprehensive range of OH services has been developed covering all issues
relating to the health of the employee.
The Eurostar (UK) business objectives are to maintain and improve safety
standards and the service it delivers to customers; to increase passenger
revenue and reduce operating costs, and to help employees achieve improved
With clear business objectives the role of occupational health can be
tailored to the business needs. As Artus and colleagues state, "The
objective of occupational health nursing practitioners is to contribute to the
bottom line financial performance of the companyÉ through the protection and
promotion of the most costly elements in an organisation – the
The railway environment
Railways are a high hazard environment. Employees may witness fatalities
from suicides, and assaults, both verbal and physical, are a feature of the
industry. Public transport workers are therefore in a high risk group3.
Employees may be involved in a distressing incident and the company aims to
ensure that if they are exposed to a traumatic incident they are offered the
opportunity to talk to the occupational health manager for a critical incident
debriefing. Employees are offered an appointment 24-72 hours after an incident.
A company leaflet designed by the occupational health managers on
post-traumatic stress is given to employees who have experienced a traumatic
event to inform them of how they may feel and where to seek further support if
necessary. Employees may also be referred to GPs or counsellors trained in
traumatic stress when necessary.
Eurostar employees were closely involved in the rescue following the
Paddington/Ladbrooke Grove disaster on 5 October 1999 when two trains collided.
This occurred on the main line track adjacent to Eurostar’s engineering depot
where 200 people were working. Eurostar employees were some of the first at the
scene and worked alongside the emergency services to free passengers from the
trains. At the time almost all employees were affected in some way. The
occupational health department conducted a series of debriefings for staff
during this period and also on the first anniversary of the crash.
The development of the OH service
The Paddington/Ladbroke Grove incident raised the profile of the role of
occupational health and the contribution it can make to a company, and
highlighted mental health as an important factor which could form the basis for
further research. It is not anticipated that Eurostar (UK) Ltd will employ an
above average number of people with mental health problems, but it is
acknowledged that mental health is becoming one of the main contributory causes
of sickness absence in industry4.
It has been recognised that within the functions of the company, employees
are exposed to different potential health risks, such as the effects of shift
working, location, working away from home and working directly with the general
public, who can be verbally and physically aggressive3. Also, as previously
illustrated, employees may witness a critical incident resulting in fatalities.
Stress management programmes including workshops had been offered to managers
and employees for several years and although these had always been well
received they were not necessarily addressing any fundamental organisational
To be able to introduce a proactive programme, an assessment of the actual
situation was necessary and independent occupational psychologists were
commissioned to carry out an occupational health well being audit.
The aim of the audit was to identify the extent of stress and causes of
stress within the company. Initially only the safety critical sections of the
business were to take part. But if a clear assessment was to be achieved the
audit needed to be wider and include such areas as the call centre in Ashford
where exposure to stress was becoming more recognised.
The OH managers and the occupational psychologist agreed a methodology and
the researchers designed a questionnaire specific to Eurostar (UK) and met with
A summary of the findings together with the researchers’ recommendations
were presented within 12 weeks and from this a structured action plan was
formulated for the company. This included company objectives together with
action points for the occupational health department.
This audit provided the opportunity to develop the OH service and introduce
health programmes designed specifically to meet the needs and tasks of people’s
jobs, location and shifts.
The key areas which were developed as a consequence of this audit have
included relaunching the occupational health service, developing and
implementing a back care programme, introducing lifestyle assessments and
offering eye tests for customer service employees.
The fundamental areas of work, which include managing medical and EAP
(employee assistance programme) contracts, health referrals, critical incident
stress debriefing and DSE awareness training, remain a core part of the OH
manager’s function. With the implementation of specific health programmes the
OH service now provides employees with readily available specialist support and
Occupational health managers have found that working within a proactive
environment allows innovative ideas to develop. However, it is necessary to
collect and collate data of all activities to an agreed time scale and present
these in a format familiar to the organisation.
To provide a cost-effective occupational health service it is necessary
– To identify the need, justify the reason and reference this to business
– Focus specifically on key functions of the business but not forgetting
– Confirm clear objectives and time scales
– Carry out regular occupational health service audits both of a qualitative
and quantitative nature including clinical audits
– Work to set OH protocols to provided the tool for audit
1. Savage S (2001) Flexible Working, Personnel Today.
2. Artus K, et al (undated) A Professional Perspective of Occupational
Health Nursing. SOHN and the Association of UK OH Nurse Practioners.
3. HSE (1999) British Crime Survey.
4. CBI (2000) Focus on Absence.
5. ENB, DOH (1988) Occupational Health Nursing Contributing to Healthier
Elizabeth Harvey and Julia Wason are occupational health managers at
Eurostar (UK) Ltd, London
Eurostar’s occupational health objectives
– To ensure that all safety critical
staff (such as drivers and maintenance staff) are medically fit
– To reduce costs by reducing sickness absence levels
– To prevent costly litigation against the company by providing
occupational health advice on matters such as the DDA
– To encourage better individual performance by a programme of
The cost to industry of sickness
absence is significant in all businesses and affects not just those people who
are ill but also their families and colleagues5