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ORR warns rail industry to refocus on safety

17 July 2019

THE OFFICE of Rail and Road (ORR) has published its Annual Report on Health and Safety which stresses that Britain’s railway remains one of the safest railways in Europe for passengers, but warns that the rate of improvement has shown signs of slowing.

The report shows that seven passengers died at the platform-train interface in the past year, and two rail workers were killed doing their jobs. Two more track workers died near Port Talbot recently, further emphasising the need for the industry to improve its approach to ensuring vital work on the railway is planned and delivered safely.

The need for continued focus on safety is reinforced by the increasing pressure on the network – as the industry deals with the introduction of hundreds of new trains and with the consequences of disruption. Industry must focus on managing the new risks and the added demands on its staff this brings.
Ian Prosser, ORR Director of Safety and HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said, “We would like to extend our sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of Michael Lewis and Gareth Delbridge who lost their lives in the tragic incident near Port Talbot recently. Our investigation is underway. Separately, based on evidence gathered from last year’s inspection programme, we have taken formal enforcement action to secure the wider national improvements needed to protect track workers.

“The fact that -  despite this tragedy - Great Britain’s railway remains one of the safest in the world, is a tribute to the hard work, expertise and professionalism of tens of thousands of people employed across the industry.

“Nonetheless, we are facing significant challenges not least around new rolling stock, the platform-train interface and trespass, and the whole industry must work together to ensure that safety standards are not allowed to slip.

“It is vital that lessons are learned when tragic accidents occur. Two rail workers died during 2018-19 which reinforced the need for vigilance and improvement and, in the wake of the Croydon tram crash, we have worked closely with the industry to ensure that the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board was set up.”
The report concludes that the industry must focus on three main challenges:

  • Increasing pressure on the system – The introduction of new rolling stock, high passenger demand and issues with performance are placing pressure on the industry’s infrastructure and its people
  • Technological developments – These are essential for improving safety, performance and value-for-money, but it is vital that proper attention is paid to how people interact with it, and that its introduction is properly resourced and managed
  • Supporting our people – Staff are critical for safety and are often the last line of defence. The industry is showing welcome improvement in recognising the importance of occupational health and mental health, but change within the industry can add to pressure on people and that must be managed well.

Particular issues the ORR will be watching closely in the coming year include the risk arising from the rise in the number of potentially severe SPADs (Signals Passed at Danger), and the platform-train interface, which remains the greatest cause of harm to passengers on the mainline railways and second on London Underground.

Incidents occurring in two sectors - trams and heritage - have prompted some concern in recent years and as a result the ORR is devoting greater resource to monitoring their performance. We will continue to do so in the next 12 months.

Ensuring good occupational health practices is vital for the future of the industry. We are pleased to note the new code of practice on fatigue management produced by the National Freight Safety Group and we are proud to support the Million Hour Challenge in support of Samaritans. However, there is still work to be done in managing issues such as hand-arm vibration syndrome.