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Safety rules implementation still inconsistent, despite progress – ORR

The railways in Britain are the safest they have ever been, but safety rules and procedures are still not being implemented consistently across the industry, according to the ORR.

The regulator’s ‘Annual Health and Safety Report of Performance on Britain’s Railways: 2015-16’ report noted that, for the first time ever, there were no fatalities of any railway worker.

But inspections found that risk controls were not always consistent, or reliably achieved by compliance with standards and procedures.

It said: “Indeed, we found too many examples of Network Rail’s staff not complying with its own rules, requiring us to take enforcement action to drive improvements on areas such as ineffective manual handling, slip, trip and falls management and weaknesses in risk controls at some level crossings.”

Frustrating implementation

During the last year, the ORR said it was “frustrating” that potentially transformative programmes, like the Planning and Delivering Safe Work (PDSW), were unsuccessful in their implementation.

“PDSW met with numerous problems within the maintenance function, causing its trial roll-out to be paused,” the ORR noted, adding: “Business Critical Rules and associated role-based competence regimes have been frustratingly slow to embrace all asset areas, and disappointingly ineffective where they have been implemented. Network Rail’s implementation of these potentially transformative changes at route level was not consistent and sometimes proved ineffective.”

It added that Network Rail’s trial of the new safe work leader role on the East Midland route failed at the implementation stage because of insufficient resourcing, an insufficiently mature IT platform, the culture and competences of existing frontline managers and unnecessary self-imposed deadlines.

Ian Prosser, ORR's director of railway safety and HM chief inspector, said: “Our evidence highlights key challenges facing the rail industry. In particular, the need to ensure that safety arrangements set by railway leadership are implemented consistently, as well as managing the safety risks from rising passenger numbers.  

“We need to see further evidence of industry improvement here. The safety of all those who use or work on Britain’s railways is our top priority. We will continue to play our part in holding Network Rail, London Underground, and the train operators to account for delivering an ever safer railway.”

Harm to passengers

It was noted that for the ninth year in a row, the industry saw no passenger fatalities in train accidents, and although overall levels of harm reduced 4%, the actual harm to passengers and public in stations and on train increased by 8%.

The ORR added that when normalised by the 2% growth in passenger journeys is factored in, overall harm to passengers increased 7%. This was largely due to an increase in fatalities at stations and although none were the fault of the industry, it is still an area we all need to focus on.

The regulator added that risks from earthworks increased 16% over 2015-16, due to a 195% increase to 118 cutting failures and a 95% increase to 41 in embankment failures, “mostly due to wet weather since December 2015”.

Despite taking enforcement action in 2012 requiring enhanced and targeted contingency arrangements for managing the impacts of severe weather, the ORR said: “The evidence of Network Rail’s management of the winter 2015-16 storms shows that its processes are not consistently effective.”

There were positive signs, though, as there was a 7% reduction in signals passed at danger (SPADs) compared to 2014-15 and overall risk from SPADs reduced by 10 percentage points from 64% to 54%. But it the ORR added: “Our enforcement activities serve as a reminder that inconsistencies in health and safety standards mean that we are still required to step in to ensure compliance with the law or to deal with an immediate risk. The serious incident at Wotton Basset junction involving a train operated by West Coast Railway Company passing a red signal and which led to a swift and wide ranging response by our inspectors, is one such example.”

Building on improvements since the start of CP5 many of the track geometry measures improved in 2015-16, but keeping the right balance between maintenance and renewal activity remains essential. “We found evidence of weaknesses in Network Rail’s assurance activity, including in its management and supervisory functions, which must addressed,” said the ORR.

Reduction in workforce harm

The report revealed major injury harm amongst the workforce reduced 14% and minor injuries reduced 3% in the last year. Of the 157 major injuries, 37% involved on-track infrastructure workers. The ORR added that while these improvements are commendable, the sector “lags behind other comparable industries who better manage harm to their infrastructure workers”.

“As a result of our inspection findings we are challenging Network Rail to strengthen aspects of its assurance activities at a tactical level (administrative, physical and process) to improve its performance measures,” said the regulator. “We will work with Network Rail to target improvements in these areas in order to raise the effectiveness of its safety management system and realise more consistent, reliable and predictable risk controls.”

It was noted that there has been good collaboration across the industry, leading to the publication of a unified mainline railway health and safety strategy. This has identified 12 priority areas requiring attention such as such as worker health and wellbeing, fatigue management and station operations.

Additionally, safety at level crossings continues to improve. But once again, standards are not yet applied consistently enough. There were still three incidents in which pedestrians were killed. ORR is scrutinising Network Rail’s programme of work to improve safety management at level crossings.

Prosser said: “A decade of sustained investment and a shared commitment from industry leaders, managers, workers, unions and governments has dramatically improved health and safety on Britain’s railways. It is a significant achievement to be rated as the safest railway in Europe, but it’s vital no one becomes complacent.


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