From 2012 to 2014, the author led a research project about railway safety on the topic of “SPAD” occurrences, otherwise known as signals passed at danger. In Australia SPADs have been very problematic, and though none has caused any serious injury, over one thousand happen every year. In spite of the scholarly progress made in rail safety science, the industry still has a tendency to explain them through single-factor accounts of failure, which do not consider the system or the wider organizational behaviors. The research project found that organizational norms such as time pressure and poorly mediated controller-driver communications were significant causal factors for a majority of SPADs from the driver’s perspective. As findings started to emerge, they attracted controversy and the project was presented with the problem of translating its findings to optimize uptake within a very traditional and reactive industry. Using a Victorian rhetoric and character references that have become part of the popular lexicon (Sherlock Holmes), and by injecting light-hearted humor into an eminently serious topic, the findings were disseminated in a short story called “The Case of the Crooked Clock & the Distracted Driver.” The findings have since gone on to inform a national SPAD Guideline by the Australian Rail Industry Safety Standards Board. This essay illustrates the efficacy of narrative in bringing about changes in policy in a significant real-world situation.


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pp. 211-220
Launched on MUSE
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