Improving health and safety on our railway

11 May 2016

Great Britain’s railway is safer than it has ever been before.

Ian ProsserFor the first time ever, a busy year on the railways passed without a railway worker losing his or her life. On top of that, for the ninth year in a row, we saw no fatal train accidents to passengers or staff.

Clearly, we should not be complacent in any shape or form. These improvements have been hard won. Fatal incidents like the one at Bad Aibling in Germany in February 2016 bring into sharp focus our goal to never allow such an incident again.

Our aim of continuing to strive for excellence in health and safety management is not about unnecessary ‘gold-plating’, but doing the right things right first time, and having a safety culture built on collective trust to deliver that goal. This continues to be done on Japan’s mainline railway.

We still have too many very close calls. The incident at Wootton Bassett junction, when, in March 2015, a steam locomotive operated by West Coast Railway Company passed a signal at danger and came to a stop across the busy junction on the Great Western main line, reminds us all that we must as an industry keep improving and moving forward.

As the regulator we must act firmly and quickly when we believe risk is not being managed effectively. This is what I did regarding West Coast Railway Company recently – the decision to prohibit running trains was not taken lightly, but network safety must be the priority.

A significant step forward for the industry was the development of the first truly unified mainline railway health and safety strategy, launched in April 2016, which we wholeheartedly endorsed. It identifies where we as an industry believe we are in terms of risk management maturity.

This is a big and important step forward, as, in some areas such as worker health and wellbeing, the industry can do much more to collaborate and improve. We have been pushing the industry to progress in this area for a number of years now. We see scope for these to make significant improvements to company profits, as well as the health and wellbeing of all employees.

As risk management develops over the next few years, I believe it will also have an important impact on continuing to improve the health and safety culture in the industry. This is very important as the industry is facing significant challenges due in many ways to its success over the last 20 years, with growth continuing in all parts of the sector.

Managing growth demands on an ageing infrastructure and ever busier stations, while also building future infrastructure, will be critical in managing future health and safety performance. Therefore, the two high priority areas for us are ensuring the infrastructure is maintained in a safe and sustainable way and the effective management of safety when passengers get on and off trains.

As the railway’s infrastructure is developed and enhanced to meet the growth challenges, we will ensure the industry embraces the concept of ‘safety-by-design’, whether that’s during line electrification or when rebuilding stations.

Designing-in safety and designing-out risk at the start of projects will also result in lower costs. We have been successful in the last year in working with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure we can work together on new build railways, such as Crossrail and High Speed 2. Together we signed an agency agreement that will give ORR the enforcement powers to look at ‘what is built’ for these new projects.

I have been HM Chief Inspector for Railways for nearly eight years now. In this time the approach to managing risks at level crossings has been transformed. In 2008, in collaboration with us, Network Rail started a process of closing high risk level crossings. They created the role of level crossing managers and have consequently developed an improved risk assessment process. With the support of the government, Network Rail has closed 1,000 crossings since 2009/10.

Consequently, we and the RSSB (the industry’s safety body) believe we are seeing the results of reducing risk at level crossings. There were four fatalities at crossings in 2015/16 - equal to the jointlowest ever.

In the summer, we will publish our full review of health and safety performance on our railway, reporting on the work done in 2015-16 to make Britain’s railway amongst the very safest in the world.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways.