Hundreds of workplace injuries were not declared by Network Rail over a five-year period because staff and contractors were fearful of the consequences if they reported them, an independent report has concluded.
Last year, the company was heavily criticised by the Office of Rail Regulation over its under-reporting of minor injuries and received huge flak from the Unite union over its decision to award seven directors annual bonuses attributable in part to the rail operator’s safety performance.
Following talks with Unite, Network Rail invited the Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB) to undertake an independent review of how it reports staff accidents. Publishing its report today (25 January), the Board found no evidence of a link between under-reporting and directors’ or senior managers’ bonuses.
However, it estimated that the company failed to declare around 500 to 600 RIDDOR reportable accidents between 2005 and 2010.
According to the review, some of the under-reporting related to misinterpretation of the requirements under RIDDOR. However, in the majority of cases, staff and contractors chose not to report accident events, owing to fear of reprisals – real or perceived – if they did so. Among the companies and individuals they employed, there was a strong belief they would be less likely to receive work if they reported a lost-time injury.
The RSSB concluded that Network Rail failed to spot the under-reporting because it believed that the measures it was making to improve safety – including investment in protective clothing, quantified targets, and league tables (where managers had points deducted for RIDDOR incidents) – were driving the number of accidents down.
Following changes to the company’s internal guidance on reporting, the level of RIDDOR reporting at Network Rail has now returned to more expected levels.
Anson Jack, RSSB’s director of policy, research and risk, who directed the review, said: “This review highlights the unintended consequences of management initiatives intended to improve safety. It is the combination of Network Rail’s internal and contracting culture, together with quantitative targets, rather than just the targets themselves, which created the under-reporting issue.
“Network Rail has already taken a number of actions to address the under-reporting, and we have recommended it considers further steps to improve the working relationship between all levels of its staff, and between the company and its contractors, with a view to working towards a more open and ‘just’ safety and reporting culture.”
Responding to the review findings, Network Rail’s chair, Rick Haythornthwaite, said: “I’m grateful to RSSB for its work and to the Office of Rail Regulation and Unite for bringing this issue to our attention. While we can take some comfort from the report’s clear conclusion that there was no link between under-reporting and executive bonuses, Network Rail needs to heed the lessons in this report if it is to achieve its ambition of a world-class safety culture.”
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, suggested the RIDDOR failings were a result of commercialisation of the rail network. He said this had created “a climate where business-led targets have overridden safety reporting, leading to up to 40 per cent of injuries not being reported”.
He also called on the Government to resist pressure from within its own ranks to re-privatise Network Rail and, in doing so, avoid “setting us on course for a return to the dark days of Hatfield and Potters Bar”.
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