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Rail worker safety at worst level for seven years – ORR

The number of track workers being injured has hit a seven-year high, according to the Office of Rail Regulation’s (ORR) annual safety report.

Workforce safety continues to be a significant challenge for the industry, with three deaths, 79 major injuries and 1,641 reported minor injuries in 2013/14 (see below).

The regulator wants to see “rapid progress” across the industry to introduce new technology and reduce risks and protect workers.

Its report says: “Network Rail’s record is poor compared with other sectors, including other parts of the railway industry and we expect a major improvement.”

Also, despite the rail industry working hard to make platforms safe for passengers, overall harm to people at the platform train interface increased in 2013/14.

During the period under review, there were four deaths and more than 1,250 other ‘platform related injuries’. However, the overall level of harm to passengers from all types of accidents declined.

The regulator stated that as passenger numbers grow and station improvements continue, reducing passenger harm must be a priority.

Ian Prosser, ORR's director of railway safety, said: “Britain's railways continue to report one of the best safety records in Europe, particularly for passengers on trains and at level crossings. Despite this success, there is no room for complacency.

“Station and platform safety presents a major challenge as the industry faces pressures from rising numbers of passengers and trains, and the large volume of enhancement projects underway to improve the rail network.”

Prosser added: “The regulator has approved dedicated funding for the next five years to improve the safety and performance of Britain's railways. More than £250m has been allocated for better track worker protection and £100m made available to close level crossings.

“ORR's ongoing programme of targeted inspections will focus on station management, electrical and worker safety, level crossings and the condition of tracks, bridges and tunnels, to ensure that there is no compromise on safety.”

It has also been recommended that Network Rail must improve its management of the network so that it predicts and prevents problems before they create a safety risk or cause disruption for passengers.

In the past year alone, ORR took enforcement action to address serious issues which impact on safety, including earthworks too overgrown to be inspected, and increases in repeat track twist faults.

Responding to the report, a Rail Delivery Group spokesman said: “Britain now has the safest and most improved rail network in Europe and the safety of passengers and rail workers will always remain the industry’s number one priority. That’s why the industry will continue working together to find ways in which we can improve.” 

However, RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash stated that safety reps continue to report flagrant breaches of procedures and regulations as staff numbers are “hacked to the bone, work is contracted out and casualised with corners cut in a desperate drive to try and keep services running against a backdrop of savage financial cuts”.

Cash added: “RMT is in no doubt that the catalogue of death and injuries on our railways, amongst both staff and passengers, will continue to increase unless the government reverse the cuts programme laid out in their McNulty Rail Review. That document calls for massive staff cuts on track, trains and stations.”

A Network Rail spokesperson told RTM: “Britain’s railways are among the safest in Europe, but we know there is more to do to make the railway even safer for the public, passengers and particularly our workforce.

“We believe that everyone must return home safe, every day, which is why we have committed to eliminate all fatalities and major injuries among our workforce and the contractors who work for us by 2019. Over the same period, we will build on the progress already made to reduce risk at level crossings by a further 25% and the risk of train accidents by 50%.”

Extract on infrastructure worker safety risk from ORR report

“Network Rail accepts our view that it must do much more to protect infrastructure and particularly track workers. Key developments such as Sentinel 2 have now been implemented and good use is being made of Network Rail’s close-call procedures by workers to identify incidents that could have proved dangerous. The 10-point plan for improved worker safety has the potential to bring significant improvement, but needs maturity and commitment to be implemented successfully.

“Evidence: our analysis of incidents and risk evidence very clearly illustrates that actual FWI (Fatality and Weighted Injury index) harm to infrastructure workers worsened by 22% in 2013-14 and remains far too high. It is now at its highest level for seven years. In recent years, the two biggest causes of worker fatality are being struck or crushed by trains or being involved in an at-work road accident – see below.

“There were three fatalities and major injuries were up 16% and minor injuries up 15% in 2013-14 – see pages 25-26. Workforce harm, normalised by workforce hours worked, increased 10% over the year due to overall increases in harm across all sections of the workforce, with the exception of on-board train crew and train drivers. We took action on several prosecution and enforcement cases relating to incidents involving infrastructure workers‟ safety – see annex 1.

“Progress to introduce new technologies that would help remove or reduce risk to infrastructure workers has been too slow and needs improvement. The lookout struck and killed by a train at Newark Northgate station in January 2014 was part of a track gang using ultrasonic equipment to test the rails. The use of available train-mounted equipment, such as plain line pattern recognition (rail defect identifying) equipment, would have helped to remove the need for workers to be on or about the track.

“Our CP5 final determination included targeted funding to improve protection and warnings to track workers, taking electrical isolations, and better and safer road-rail vehicles. While there were no working- at-height fatalities in 2013-14, worker falls from height still represent 28% of all worker FWI risk. Most incidents involve falls from scaffolding or other temporary structures. We still see too many working at height incidents involving poor risk assessment and/or insufficient provision and usage of fall-arrest, edge protection and other risk control equipment.”

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