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August 2, 2023

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rail sector

Rail industry has ‘unacceptable’ health provision for workers, the regulator has said

The rail industry has ‘unacceptable’ elements of how it manages the health of its workers, its regulator has said.

The importance of health and safety training in the rail sectorThe Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said in this year’s health and safety report that ‘it is unacceptable that industry has failed to provide adequate toilet facilities for staff’.

The ORR added that operators should provide shared access to their own facilities, as it is a legal requirement.

The report expressed concern about managing fatigue of workers and also said Network Rail needs to deliver changes needed to address the risks of climate change.

Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways, said: “Financial challenges, changes to travelling and working patterns, weather extremes and industrial action have brought uncertainty to the rail industry, but Great Britain’s railways consistently perform as one of the safest in Europe.

“To keep it in that position, the industry must redouble its efforts of managing its assets and the environment around them because of the threat of extreme and variable weather conditions on the network.

“A safe railway also relies on its workers to be at optimum performance, so it is of paramount importance that industry reduces fatigue levels.”

Needs to do more

The report praised positive actions taken by Network Rail in the past year such as improving safety for track workers in lookout roles and working on overhead lines.

It also noted the company is moving forward in developing state-of-the art occupational health services provision, which, for the first time, will offer centralised services to the whole mainline railway.

The regulator intends to issue revised guidance to the sector setting out its clear expectations and understanding of the law for fatigue controls.

In terms of climate change, the ORR’s report said Network Rail has been working on action plans focused on improving the management of earthworks and drainage, originating from recommendations following the Carmont accident in 2020.

Progress, such as adoption of better weather forecasting, has been made but the ORR has told Network Rail it needs to do more to drive change across its regions.

It said completing the work to find ‘lost’ drainage assets has been challenging and in some cases current drainage inspections were not being carried out with suitable rigour. I recommended dedicated teams to ensure better quality and consistency.

ORR said Network Rail’s drainage management planning has been affected by inadequate staffing levels and it called on the company to improve its management of vegetation on buildings and structures.

It found that across three of the regions inspected, Vegetation Management Plans (VMPs), a first step in effective vegetation control, were either absent or incomplete.

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