CIE, Irish Rail and Bus Eireann
Few careers are as stereotypically masculine as those in the railway industry. The very word still conjures images of brawny labourers hammering spikes into tracks, of avuncular ticket men in peaked caps, of small boys’ dreams of becoming train drivers.
“The industry is still overwhelmingly male”, says Anne Farrell, Health Promotion Executive with Irish Rail & CIE Group. “95% of Irish Rail employees are men. We’re partnering with Trinity College on a leadership programme for women, but it’s a slow process”.
Given these percentages, it’s unsurprising that much of Anne’s work falls within the sphere of men’s health. Anne’s brief covers four distinct entities – CIE, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus and the holding company which employs the group’s other staff, such as the IT and legal departments.
“You could say there’s an ageing demographic, partly due to the recruitment freezes during the recession. The average age of an employee is over 40”, Anne says.
Bus and rail industry staff face certain unique challenges when it comes to staying healthy, fit and trim. “For drivers, it’s a sedentary role and that can be a problem, health-wise”, says Anne. “Weight gain is a big issue. We’d often joke about men being given a uniform a size too big and being told they’ll grow into them. Dublin Bus has good canteen options, but ‘dashboard dinners’ are an issue for Bus Éireann drivers, who are more likely to eat on the run”.
To counter the problem of weight gain amongst drivers, the health promotion department ran a “Gutbusters” programme for Dublin Bus, in conjunction with Waterford Institute of Technology.
The fear of being ruled unfit to drive can fuel reluctance to engage with workplace health initiatives, Anne acknowledges. “The macho male culture can be an obstacle, but men also worry about being ‘taken down’, as we say – that’s when you’re deemed unfit for a safety-critical role. Those worries can lead to men approaching outside doctors, or taking holiday time instead of sick leave if they have a mental health issue”
Despite the challenges, health promotion has made significant strides within the CIE/Irish Rail group. The group’s Medical Department is moving to a new, purpose-built facility, which Anne would like to see named the Wellbeing Centre.
Anne advocates passionately for a holistic view of employee wellbeing. “Don’t view the job in isolation when it comes to workplace health”, she cautions. “There are so many other factors at play”.
In recognition of this fact, Irish Rail’s Life Fit programme encouraged the wives and families of employees to attend and get involved. The programme covered ten locations across the country, with 500 participants taking part.
In addition, Irish Rail holds one-day “wellness masterclasses” for employees, while each of the group’s companies provide Engage mental health awareness training. Meanwhile, Irish Rail’s in-house magazine, Rail Brief, is due to issue a special wellness edition in November 2019
“There’s a lot going on!”, Anne laughs. “I also provide health coaching, and there’s always counselling available”.
Anne believes men’ sheds can make a huge difference to retired men, crediting sheds with saving lives in some instances. “I’d like to see a railway shed set up for retired men’, she says. “Sometimes, when men retire, the don’t know who they are outside of work. The shed helps address that”.
She is adamant that workplace wellness must not be seen as an add-on, or a bonus feature. “Investing in wellness will pay off threefold”, she insists. “But it’s a 3-5 year return on investment. You have to give it time”.
Anne would like to see more research and evaluation of workplace wellness programmes, but is in no doubt that men are ready to hear the message.
“I went to the Inchicore Works to try and promote pilates”, Anne recalls. “I was told they wouldn’t be interested. I tailored it to men by describing it in terms of elite sportsmen and their routines, and 54 men took part. Men are just as interested in their health, if you set the right platform”.