Good Performance But Beware Cruise Control

25 July 2017

By Justin McCracken, Chair of the Regulator’s Health and Safety Regulation Committee, who praises the industry’s record but warns against complacency.

Justin McCrackenThe Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is tasked, among many other things, with ensuring those responsible make Britain's railways safe for passengers, the public, and staff.

ORR’s Board, on which I am a Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Health and Safety Regulation Committee, sets the overall strategic direction and provides oversight of our health and safety work - as well as maintaining close contact with key partners in safety work.

The Chief Inspector of Railways’ report was published last week. It showed a very good safety performance across the network; this is pleasing and a tribute to the hard work of many people across the industry. They can all take pride in their achievement.

But… experience teaches us that pride can come before a fall.

During my career on both sides of the regulatory fence, I have seen attempts at ‘cruise control’ on health and safety go badly wrong. This year’s report points out several structural and earthwork failures on the mainline railway, any of which could have resulted in potentially serious train accidents. It also notes that some sites are particularly vulnerable to failure in bad weather.

None of us can afford to be complacent about safety, or take our current performance for granted. It is vital that everyone maintains a learning approach and - in an industry where so much risk occurs across organisational boundaries - co-operation and teamwork are nurtured.

I am also pleased to say that ORR’s railway safety inspectorate is itself absolutely committed to living the same philosophy of ‘continuous improvement’ that we espouse for health and safety across the industry. Their commitment to remaining up-to-date with every development and in creating RM3  - a tool explaining exactly what ORR looks at when judging an organisation’s ability to achieve excellence in health and safety management, which was quickly adopted as the go-to guide across the industry - ¬ means the Board knows that the rail industry is getting the high-quality regulation it deserves.

For its part, ORR will continue to exert its influence with government and Network Rail to encourage a sharp focus on catching up with essential renewals work.

And the industry must rise to the report’s challenge: to improve management of change, place greater emphasis on safety by design principles, strengthen its asset management and fully embed a culture in which everyone works as a team, to improve safety and safeguard each other’s health.