Our safest-ever rail­way

Di­rec­tor of Rail­way Safety and Chief In­spec­tor of Rail­ways IAN PROSSER tells STE­FANIE BROWNE what sets the UK apart in safety terms and how our im­pec­ca­ble record is no rea­son to stop look­ing for im­prove­ment

Rail (UK) - - Safety Special -

It’s very fit­ting that this is the first year we haven’t had a work­force fa­tal­ity in the whole sec­tor. That’s been a long time com­ing - too long - but at least we’ve now got to this point.

It’s the safest form of land trans­port, far out­strip­ping the record of any­thing roads can of­fer. And over the years, that gap is widen­ing fur­ther and fur­ther. But it’s more than that. The rail­way here is the safest in Europe and is among the up­per ech­e­lons of world­wide sys­tems, too.

In July, the Of­fice of Rail and Road (ORR) re­leased its An­nual Health and Safety Re­port show­ing the level of progress the in­dus­try has made on im­prov­ing its safety per­for­mance ( RAIL 806).

“It is a credit to the women and men in the in­dus­try that we’ve got to where we’ve got to, par­tic­u­larly those on the front line,” Ian Prosser, Di­rec­tor of Rail­way Safety and Chief In­spec­tor of Rail­ways for the ORR, tells RAIL.

Prosser has just spent the last hour meet­ing the new Par­lia­men­tary Un­der-Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port, Paul May­nard, and is head­ing off for a HS2 Health and Safety Com­mit­tee board meet­ing af­ter this.

“Con­se­quently, it’s very fit­ting that this is the first year we haven’t had a work­force fa­tal­ity in the whole sec­tor. That has been a long time com­ing - too long - but at least we’ve now got to this point. We also saw a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of ma­jor in­juries, which means it’s not just a sta­tis­ti­cal thing (see graphs).”

Zero work­force fa­tal­i­ties was not the only achieve­ment in this area ei­ther. While it is still tragic that any­one died on the rail­way, none of the fa­tal­i­ties that took place at level cross­ings last year were down to the in­dus­try be­ing at fault.

How­ever, Prosser is keen to point out that this is not to say we should not keep mov­ing for­ward. While he’s clearly proud of the in­dus­try’s achieve­ment, there is a caveat: “The per­for­mance in 2015 shows that we have con­tin­ued to im­prove, but it’s very im­por­tant that we do not be­come com­pla­cent, be­cause the things we see through our man­age­ment ma­tu­rity model (see panel, page 46) show us there is still quite a lot of scope be­fore the sec­tor gets to ex­cel­lence.”

For all the pos­i­tive im­prove­ments made last year, there were still events such as the nearmiss when steam lo­co­mo­tive 34067 Tang­mere passed a sig­nal at dan­ger near Woot­ton Bas­sett in March 2015 and nar­rowly avoided col­li­sion with a First Great Western HST. The in­creas­ingly fre­quent land­slips and cut­ting slips that we’re see­ing dur­ing bad weather are also a cause for con­cern.

Says Prosser: “So, although we saw over­all harm re­duc­ing by 4%, pas­sen­ger harm ac­tu­ally went up by 7% when nor­malised, so we still have things to do. Although there weren’t any in­dus­try-caused fa­tal­i­ties, the same chal­lenges also ex­ist on Lon­don Un­der­ground about man­ag­ing the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple at sta­tions and par­tic­u­larly some of the be­havioural changes that we’re see­ing, like peo­ple with mo­bile de­vices not look­ing where they’re go­ing, for ex­am­ple.”

This chang­ing risk on the rail­way is what led Prosser to the four main chal­lenges that he be­lieves the in­dus­try is fac­ing (see panel). Be­cause, while sig­nif­i­cant leaps have been made in the safety arena, the rail­way is chang­ing. Pas­sen­ger num­bers have in­creased 129.8% since pri­vati­sa­tion and are still ris­ing, we’re build­ing new rail­ways and up­grad­ing in­fra­struc­ture. All of which bring with them new safety chal­lenges.

It all means that main­tain­ing and re­new­ing in­fra­struc­ture must re­main high on the agenda, but that can be dif­fi­cult when times are tight fi­nan­cially.

Says Prosser: “This comes back to the is­sues around some of the struc­tures and earth­works. I was very pleased to hear that this area is very im­por­tant to the new Rail Min­is­ter. It is a crit­i­cal fac­tor, be­cause it has a huge im­pact not just on safety but also re­li­a­bil­ity and per­for­mance for the pas­sen­ger. And I think the pas­sen­ger wants to see re­li­a­bil­ity above, say, im­prov­ing a few min­utes of jour­ney time. That’s why main­tain­ing and re­new­ing a safe and sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture is so im­por­tant.”

It’s all well and good plac­ing em­pha­sis on safety and en­sur­ing that key ar­eas such as re­newals con­tinue, but does that al­ways achieve re­sults on the ground?

“From a cul­tural point of view, there are two re­ally key things. One is mak­ing it hap­pen where it mat­ters most - mak­ing the con­nec­tions be­tween the board­room and the front line to en­sure that you see the strate­gic in­tent ac­tu­ally de­liv­ered on the front line. That’s about safety cul­ture within or­gan­i­sa­tions. And I think a re­ally im­por­tant as­pect of this is mak­ing peo­ple feel that they’re cared for.

“It’s about en­gag­ing with the work­force. It’s the peo­ple on con­struc­tion sites, or close to the track, or driving ve­hi­cles, who are most

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