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July 19, 2011

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Network Rail hammered by regulator over lacklustre safety culture

“A disappointing year with clear evidence of a poor safety culture, patchy implementation of procedures and slow progress on some key risks – often requiring formal enforcement.” This is the Office of Rail Regulation’s blunt assessment of Network Rail’s health and safety performance in 2010/2011.

The appraisal of Network Rail – detailed in the regulator’s annual health and safety report 2010/11 – concludes a year in which the rail operator was prosecuted on two separate occasions, costing it nearly £174,000 in combined fines and costs. It also received 12 Improvement Notices and two Prohibition Notices for safety failings.

Improvements to address RIDDOR under-reporting at the company – which came to light last year – were noted by the ORR, but this has resulted in a higher-than-target accident frequency rate (AFR). The regulator went on: “The fatality and weighted injuries (FWI) is also higher than the target, and this is of more concern because this measure reflects numbers of major-injury accidents, which were not under-reported and which remain unacceptably high.”

Network Rail’s internal processes to assure health and safety compliance came in for criticism, with the ORR highlighting how its inspections often revealed major issues that “came as a surprise to the company”. The regulator concluded: “The company cannot rely on ORR to do that which should be at the core of effective safety management.”

The report also highlights the rail operator’s slow progress on addressing key risks, leading the ORR to take umbrage at the company’s failure to act on stated commitments to improve health and safety, “especially when enforcement action had already covered the issue”. It notes, for example, that “a lack of resource slowed progress on the collection and analysis of data to identify accident precursors at switches and crossings – a key requirement following the Grayrigg derailment in 2007”.

When compared with 2009/10 inspections, section managers in the track inspection process were found to have a better understanding of their responsibilities. However, the ORR admitted its concern that the track inspection process consistently failed to take account of previous findings and identify trends in track condition.

In its operations with contractors, the ORR found Network Rail “repeatedly missed opportunities to specify health and safety standards as part of the contractual arrangements when acting as a client, or sponsor”.

More positively, the report notes the “more constructive and positive engagement [with the ORR] by senior Network Rail managers on health and safety issues” over the last year, and underlines that the company’s “leadership and safety culture programme is a vital step in making future improvements”. It also applauds the company’s review of level-crossing risk management as a positive step, encouraging Network Rail to turn this work into “real action”.

With regard to the industry as a whole, the ORR’s report contains many positive findings. Chief among these is the huge reduction in potential high-risk train accidents on the mainline railway – from 42 in 2009/10 to 18 in 2010/11. There was just one worker fatality in 2010/11 compared with three in 2009/10, while minor and major injuries also fell, year on year. However, on the mainline railway, more passengers were injured at stations.

It was also a particularly busy year in terms of enforcement, with the ORR serving 48 notices – up from 38 in 2009/10 – and taking eight prosecutions – an increase of six on the year before.

Commenting on the report, a Network Rail spokesperson said: “Everyone in the industry has worked hard to make the railway ever-more safe, both for its users and its workers. It is good to see that hard work reflected in the improved safety performance that this data shows today.

“Network Rail is not complacent and will work even harder – along with its partners – to maintain a primary focus on running an efficient, reliable and, most of all, safe railway in Great Britain.”

The ORR’s director of rail safety, Ian Prosser, said: “Great Britain’s railways remain one of the safest in Europe and latest figures show workforce safety continues to improve.
“But our report also highlights areas for attention, particularly passenger safety at stations and safety at level crossings. It is crucial that the rail industry, in striving for long-term and sustainable excellence, shows real leadership, maximising everyone’s contribution, and steps up to the considerable challenges ahead.”
The full report is at

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12 years ago

Why, when someone sorts out an under-reporting culture and the AFR then increases do management complain when it actually proves the work is a success. (i.e. they disclose what was hidden). Why do corporate dipsticks insist on silly goals such as no more than XX reportables with draconian penalties when it is obvious all it does is drive reporting underground. My targets focus on such as near miss to incident ratios. Odd, we now seem to get a lot of near miss reporting but far fewer accidents

12 years ago

Nice to see NWR putting a positive spin on what is a rather damning report by the ORR.