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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
July 29, 2010

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Rail regulator concerned about track-worker safety and unrecorded incidents

The Office of the Rail Regulator has published its first-ever health and safety report, offering an industry-wide analysis of activities and results across the rail sector.

The key message of the report is that Britain’s railways continue to be among the safest in Europe but there are concerns about certain aspects of worker safety, as well as harm to passengers, the level of which has increased for the first time in seven years.

Using the Rail Safety Standards Board’s ‘precursor indicator model’, which measures the underlying risk from train accidents to passengers, the workforce and members of the public, such as motorists on level crossings, the ORR found an improvement of 11.35 per cent in system safety risk to passengers and the public. The greatest risk is now associated with level crossings, followed by infrastructure failures.

Worker safety also improved in 2009/2010, with no fatalities or major injuries reported among the high-risk groups of shunters and ground staff. However, the overall safety of track workers worsened last year, with three fatalities recorded among this group, two of them while working on Network Rail infrastructure projects.

Consequently, reveals the report, “significant enforcement activity” has been carried out in relation to Network Rail’s management of track-worker safety, and the rail infrastructure operator’s control of construction projects and contractors will continue to be a focus of the ORR’s inspection programme for 2010-11.

The report acknowledges Network Rail’s efforts to improve its own safety culture and address such issues as controller of site-safety competence and minimise the risk to track workers. A spokesperson for Network Rail told SHP: “We are committed to doing everything we can to sustain the safety of the railways. We are not complacent – any death is one too many.”

Continuing the long-term downward trend, major injuries among workers fell over the past year but minor injuries have plateaued, prompting concerns within the ORR that these are not being reported correctly within Network Rail. In a recent interview with industry magazine Rail, the ORR’s director of safety, Ian Prosser, said up to 500 RIDDOR incidents a year could be under-reported by Network Rail.

The operator’s spokesman said it is in “constant dialogue with the ORR on this issue and will try to understand what the regulator means by this”. Meanwhile, the RMT union has commended Ian Prosser for “bringing the under-reporting of key data into the public domain”, and has written to Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond, demanding an urgent investigation into “serious accidents” at Network Rail.

The ORR also expressed its disappointment at the lack of progress on occupational-health issues, calling on the industry to “raise its game” in this respect. This year, the regulator introduced an occupational health programme, which will run until 2014 and aims to deliver the ORR’s vision of “an industry that consistently achieves best practice in occupational health”. The programme includes activities to encourage industry leadership, promote awareness of health among managers, and encourage excellence in health management by duty-holders.

While passenger fatalities remained at the same level in 2009/10 compared with the previous year, passenger injuries rose during this period. This increase was largely driven by passenger falls on stairs and escalators, and while boarding or alighting from trains. Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger representative body Passenger Focus, said: “Passengers’ safety should always be a top priority, and the rail industry’s record has generally been good. However, as more extreme weather is becoming normal, the industry has to focus on reducing slips, trips and falls.”

The period under review in the report represents the first in which the ORR’s safety function operated in its new structure. According to the regulator, a reduction in staff numbers and management layers has allowed its inspectors to spend more time out in the field – during 2009/10, 38 enforcement notices were issued across the rail industry, and two prosecutions were completed.

Commenting on the report, Ian Prosser, said: “The regulator will always support successes and enable improvements. Excellence in health and safety culture and risk control must become the goal for the industry, so that our railways can maintain improvements in safety, alongside greater efficiency and value for money, through world-class systems, processes and leadership.”

IOSH welcomed the renewed focus that the ORR’s report will bring. Richard Williams, of the Institution’s Rail Group, added: “We look forward to using our network of 1200 members, working across Network Rail, London Underground, Train & Freight Operators and associated organisations, to ensure that the initiatives proposed are supported, in the knowledge that this will bring immense benefits to the thousands of workers associated with the rail industry”

In what could be seen as a nod to the current Government review of health and safety by Lord Young, Mr Prosser emphasised that the ORR will retain its focus on achieving the highest standards across the railways “without the need for gold-plating”. He continued: “While we are in a period when economic issues are, quite rightly, at the forefront of the rail sector’s thinking, the regulator takes the firm view that a safe railway is an efficient railway.”

But RMT leader Bob Crow warned against efficiencies, saying: “With cuts to safety-critical jobs and maintenance and renewals schedules set to gather pace as the ConDem Government cuts bite, the risks to both staff and passengers on the rail network will escalate dramatically.”
 

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Ray
Ray
13 years ago

The under reporting of accidents is ubiquitos in industry. With the focus on h&s performance figures such AFRs, LTIs, RIDDORs and so on for the purpose of winning tenders and protecting reputations, it is enevitable the accidents stats will be massaged – it’s a self-perpetuating conundrum.