Rail Industry Focus

01.09.13

Safety on the tracks

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2013

Industry safety as a whole remains at an all-time high, but workers on the ground still face substantial risk. How can the industry tackle this? Kate Ashley reports. 

The rail industry needs to improve track worker safety and its management of rail infrastructure, the ORR has warned. The annual health and safety report 2013 calls for better plans to be developed to manage worker fatigue and improve occupational health. 

While passenger safety remains among the best in Europe, track safety has actually decreased. The industry needs a better understanding of the condition of assets to help plan maintenance and renewals, to improve resilience and lower the failure rate, the ORR report adds. 

A slippery slope 

There was an 8% worsening reported in track worker safety in 2012-13, primarily due to slips, trips and falls, as well as contact with objects. However it has now been 19 years since an LUL worker has been killed at work. 

And occupational health management still needs further improvement, with many sites criticised for poor control measures around dust and little active monitoring that planned controls were actually in use. Improvements are also lagging behind for track worker safety, where staff are most at risk from fatal and major injury risks. 

The report warned that Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects division has “less good” health and safety management compared to the company’s other maintenance and renewals work. 

Poor planning and poor systems of work can expose people to additional risk. The ORR has called for better protection systems to be explored, using new technology and innovation to improve safety. 

A new system of 100% checks of competence and better management of logging workers in and out of worksites could help reduce fatigue, a major safety risk. A new permit to work system would also increase safety, and more mechanised track inspections and use of remote mechanised track inspections would see fewer people working in the most dangerous places. 

In the past, some Network Rail schemes to improve worker safety have not been implemented, or have not delivered the expected outputs. To counter this, the ORR will be monitoring the development and implementation of new proposals. 

No room for complacency 

ORR’s director of railway safety, Ian Prosser, said: “Latest safety statistics show Britain’s rail industry ranks among the safest in Europe, and best at managing passenger and level crossing rail safety. But there can be no room for complacency. ORR’s analysis shows there is considerable room for improvement in specific areas, such as planned track maintenance, management of civil structures and the safety of track workers. It is now essential the rail industry works as one to deliver an even safer railway. 

“To maintain improvements the regulator has recently approved increased funding for the next five years to improve safety-critical areas of Britain’s railways, with additional money to improve the condition of structures such as bridges or tunnels, as well as to upgrade and close level crossings.” 

Looking forwards 

In Control Period 5 the industry has been charged to improve the safety design of road-rail vehicles, and to develop alerts to warn track workers of approaching trains. Network Rail has developed a workforce safety strategy for the first time. The Transforming Safety & Wellbeing strategy for 2012-24 has a number of long and short term objectives including eliminating all fatalities and major injuries and reducing train accident risk by 50% by 2019. 

Improvements are required in basic housekeeping standards, the ORR added.

There has been some evidence of this already in lifting operations and the use of road-rail vehicles. 

Increasing transparency around poor safety practice can be difficult with a “lack of impetus” from supervisors, or from within the workforce, to challenge unsafe behaviour or systems.

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