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26.02.15

Rail industry has failed to ‘keep pace’ with safety – Carne

Network Rail boss Mark Carne has admitted that the rail industry has failed to “keep pace” with other sectors in terms of safety. 

Speaking at the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) in central London this week, Carne said: “While our passenger safety performance is the best in Europe, about 600 railway workers a year – employees and contractors – are injured to the extent that they cannot return to work the next day.” 

Carne, who joined Network Rail a year ago from the oil industry, said if he was back in his old sector a “comparable figure for the same amount of activity would be between 30 and 60 people – the difference is that stark”. 

“That means that over 500 of our people are getting hurt every year, well over one a day, because our work practices have not kept pace with comparable heavy engineering industries,” he added. 

Network Rail figures show that three workers were killed and a total of 122 major injuries occurred in 2013-14, compared with two deaths and 104 major injuries in the previous year. 

To tackle this issue, Carne has demanded a dramatic change in the “macho” culture on the railways, claiming that unsafe working practices are resulting in “appalling tragedies”. 

“We have too many tragic accidents caused by behaviours and conditions that others had seen and walked past,” he said. “I spoke recently to a young man who had his leg amputated because equipment failed and crushed him. The equipment had failed previously, but nobody had reported it.” 

During 2012-13, Network Rail developed a replacement for Sentinel (the system that monitors and records the competency of employees and contractors on our infrastructure). This is supposed to enable the company to better verify that everyone who accesses the railway has the correct credentials to do so. 

In addition, Network Rail introduced its first Integrated Safety Plan covering both CP5 and CP6. The plan, underpinned by both function and route safety improvement plans, included initiatives developed with train operators and resulted in detailed joint safety improvement plans. 

The company admitted that there were 10 key areas where it needs to speed up its approach to ensuring the safety of its workforce and contractors. The resultant Workforce Safety Ten Point Plan, which is intended to create a sense of urgency and momentum around improving workforce safety, is hoped to be the key to delivering Network Rail’s safety strategy, and achieving its target of eliminating all fatalities and major injuries by the end of CP5 or sooner. 

In March 2014, Carne also started the cascade of Network Rail’s safety statement to the firm’s staff, contractors and subcontractors. The commitments apply to everyone who works on the railway. 

Carne said pressure to get work finished quickly had, in the past, led managers to “sending signals that suggest we don’t care as deeply as we could about our workforce and their safety and health”. He added that Network Rail will change this and win back the public’s support. 

But RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has warned repeatedly that the safety culture on Network Rail has been diluted by savage cuts to staffing and the proliferation of agencies and contractors which has led to casualisation of safety critical work and a surge in staff on zero hours contracts. Those warnings have come home to roost with a vengeance in these shocking figure. 

“It is all very well Mark Carne admitting that injuries amongst our members on the railways are running at ten times the level of comparable heavy industries. But that is an appalling indictment on NR and the question is what is he going to do about it?” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

Noiselimits   27/02/2015 at 11:04

Mark Carne has another problem regarding issue of night freight. See BBC TV item and three questions for Mr Carne to answer. http://wp.me/p2wFmz-9dlink

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