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May 23, 2011

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Rail review proposes new body to lead on safety

The rail industry has been challenged to set up a National Safety Task Force (NSTF) to provide “clear and credible leadership” for safety and risk management.

Proposed as part of a wide-ranging government-commissioned report into Britain’s railways, led by Sir Rory McNulty, the recommendation follows the £3m sentencing of Network Rail over the fatal train derailment at Potters Bar in May 2002.

Sir Rory’s report recognised the advances in safety made by the industry over the last two decades, but concluded that more can be achieved, chiefly via the creation of a NSTF, which would be guided by the Rail Delivery Group – another newly-proposed body.

The report said the NSTF would increase focus on occupational health and encourage the sector to introduce local behavioural safety schemes. It would also stimulate peer review and benchmarking of safety and risk management processes, as well as data transparency that would “discourage undue risk aversion, lack of individual accountability, and excessive double-checking in safety management”.

Chair of IOSH’s Railway Group, Iain Ferguson, said the report’s proposals “should provide a framework to improve rail safety and efficiency for the benefit of passengers and front-line staff. The NSTF needs to ensure that they seek to engage with those on all levels, in particular at grass-roots level”.

He added: “Overall, the report makes some positive management suggestions for sound policy and strategy, going forward. As an industry there is room for improvement; by heeding the advice given in the report we should not only see an improvement but greater efficiency.”

Rail-safety campaigner Pam Warren, a survivor of the Paddington rail crash in 1999, commented: “Before setting up yet more bureaucratic bodies the industry should look at amalgamating the safety expertise developed in various bodies such as the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), Railway Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), Network Rail, etc, rebrand them if strictly necessary, and ensure that this new entity follows strict safety regulations, reporting, and evolution.”
She described the McNulty report’s recommendation that the industry move towards having a single regulator – the ORR – as “a great suggestion”, adding: “A truly independent regulator is what myself and other survivors from Paddington have always called for.  Just ensure that any independent regulator is given the power, or ‘enough teeth’, if you like, to come down on the industry heavily if safety is compromised in any way.”

Dave Bennett, health and safety advisor of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, gave the NSTF proposal a cautious welcome, pointing out that a similar body was previously set up but later absorbed into the RSSB’s safety advisory committee.

The union is also concerned that the report implicitly supports the idea of giving track maintenance back to privately-run rail companies. Maintenance contractor Jarvis Rail Ltd escaped prosecution over health and safety failings that led to the Potters Bar crash, after the ORR decided it was no longer in the public interest to prosecute the firm, which is in administration.

Network Rail, which succeeded Railtrack, the privately-owned company responsible for the rail infrastructure at the time of the incident, was sentenced at St Albans Court on 13 May after admitting a charge under s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £3 million and ordered to pay costs of £150,000.

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12 years ago

Surely, we do not need yet another body to oversee safety on the railways! We already have the ORR, RSSB, RAIB and of course the HSE. The tendency to keep having enquiries after a serious accident is proving little value. Good h&s is as much about investment as it is anything else – which has been sadly lacking for a number of decades.