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Rail safety improvements ‘plateaued’ over last year – ORR

Britain’s rail industry continues to be one of the safest in Europe, but improvements have “plateaued” in the last 12 months, according to the Office of Rail and Road’s (ORR’s) annual safety report. 

It was noted that following a decade of sustained focus on safety management and improvement, 2014 was the eighth consecutive year without any passenger deaths related to train accident. It was also the second straight year with no passenger train derailments. 

However, the ORR’s independent safety assessments have highlighted “inconsistences” in safety management across the rail industry. 

The ORR’s director of railway safety, Ian Prosser, explained that the industry’s level of management maturity showed “only gradual improvements”. 

“It’s still some way from the excellence in health and safety and asset management culture that is central to high reliability organisations,” he noted. 

Additionally, the regulator noted that almost all the safety performance metrics it monitors look backwards. “It’s important that we also look forward proactively”. 

ORR added that Britain’s railways are still “some way off” achieving compliance with the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. Applying a safety by design approach is key, it was recommended. 

“We issued a third rail electrification systems policy statement to help clarify our position,” wrote Prosser. “I report with great sadness that four industry workers lost their lives at work. Two were electrocuted and two were killed in occupational road accidents. The electrocution fatalities were tragic but avoidable events, and are still subject to our investigation. We challenge the sector to better manage electrical safety and occupational road safety.” 

It was stated that Network Rail continues to show strong leadership in suicide prevention, collaborating closely with partners including the Samaritans. However, the ORR said that sadly there was a 5% increase in suicides and suspected suicides – the highest level ever recorded. This compares to a consistently lower level of suicides on London Underground. 

In 2014-15, the ORR said: 

  • Actual harm to passengers increased 2%, but when normalised by the 4% increase in passenger journeys, decreased 2%;
  • Actual harm to workers reduced 3%, but stayed the same when normalised by the 3% fewer workforce hours worked; and
  • Actual harm to the public, excluding suicides, increased 10%. This was driven by two additional level crossings fatalities.

Prosser added: “Great Britain’s railways have a strong track record on improving safety, and after a decade of investment and growth, are now statistically the safest in Europe. While this improvement is to be commended, statistics only tell part of the story, the industry cannot become complacent. ORR’s inspectors have identified that there is still room for improvement. 

“ORR’s evidence highlights the challenges facing the rail industry, in particular, the need to manage growth safely. Our safety inspectors report a mixed picture, with improvements at level crossings, on platform safety and asset management. However, inspectors are also seeing scope for improvement in safety risk assessments and worker health and safety.” 

Responding to the latest report, the Rail Safety and Standards Board’s director of system safety, George Bearfield, said: “While we are pleased to be reporting some positive figures today, no one in the rail industry is complacent about safety and there remain areas of concern that we will be working with the industry to address.  

“However, rail remains one of the safest forms of transport.” 

The RSSB has also published its Annual Safety Performance Report, which revealed the overall level of harm to the workforce in the last year remained stable when normalised by the number of workforce hours.


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