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January 25, 2011

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Fear led to Network Rail RIDDOR irregularities

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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SafetyconcernsRayKarenIanGranvillejenkins Recent comment authors
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Dshirres
Dshirres

The RSSB report does a good job of exposing Network Rail’s culture but not consider role of Network Rail’s competent Safety Professionals who knew of this under reporting but chose not to make an issue of it due this culture.

The reports conclusion that the major to other RIDDOR ratio should be 1:3 is wrong. My experience on West Coast was a ratio of 1:8. This was under Bechtel who did not beat up contractors who had RIDDORs but instead put a lot of effort into trying to learn from RIDDORs.

Granvillejenkins
Granvillejenkins

A question:

Are Network Rail to be prosecuted as a corporate entity for failing in their responsibilities not only under RIDDOR but more importantly under the requirements of Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 which relates to the health, safety and welfare of employees and sub-contractors while at work?

Regards
Granville

Ian
Ian

This appears to be (unfortunately) a very common issue in civil engineering and construction, where the focus on AFR as a performance measure and no or insufficient leading indicators are used. Are H&S professionals behind this misunderstanding about H&S performance, or is it a commercial issue, or both?

Karen
Karen

yes my son sustained a back injury while working for one of the big train companies – they denied any knowlege of it when he tried to claim compensation and we have since found out it was never RIDDOR reported – so the problem is very wide spread in this industry – so where are the fines?? because thats the only way to ensure compliance

Ray
Ray

The RSSB report only confirms what many inside and outside the industry have known or suspected. Advertising LTI and RIDDOR rates causes non-reporting and a culture of fear amongst staff and sub-contractors. Remember for each non-reported accident equals a non-investigated accident!

I now hope the HSE/RSSB go a step further by dissuading organisations from advertising incident rates by poster, certificates and possibly using those figures in project tender documentations.

Ray
Ray

In my experience h&s performance figures is mostly a commercial issue, driven as it is by the desire to keep contracts or to win new ones. I believe that most h&s practitioners are wary of highlighting AFRs, and certainly would not go as far as displaying signs with current man hours without an LTI/RIDDOR etc.

The fact remains that most h&s initiatives, god, bad or indifferent, emanate from the boardroom. Hence there are different objectives from good h&s management.

Ray
Ray

The RSSB report must surely question the usefulness of CIRAS? The whole purpose was to provide a medium with confidentiality for those who reported unsafe acts, conditions and incidents. I am sorely tempted to write to CIRAS and ask for their take on the RSSB report.

Ray
Ray

Yes, NWR should be prosecuted for failing to report RIDDORs. I’m not sure what prosecution would involve s2&3 of HASWA? This is a different matter altogether. You cannot prosecute simply because an accident occurred.

Safetyconcerns
Safetyconcerns

It took RSSB and the ORR to regonise this shortfall. ORR need a reality check . The evidence was clearly there for the them to see. Look at the CIRAS reports contractors have always been fearful of not getting work it always a underlying topic.

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