Thursday, 25 July 2019

Increase in rail-worker casualties

The immediate cause of the deplorable fatalities on the track near Margam has been identified. However, the report goes on to say that the Rail Accidents Investigations Branch (RAIB) will continue work to establish the root causes of the incident. In particular:

the RAIB's investigation will identify the sequence of events that led to the accident and consider: 
  •  what might have influenced the actions of those on site 
  • the protection arrangements that were in place 
  • the planning of the work and the implementation of Network Rail's standard for keeping people safe on or near the line 
  • any relevant underlying management or organisational factors

Possibly coincidentally (because it makes no reference to Margam), a report has appeared in Private Eye about the effects of the gig economy on track maintenance. It states that a trackworker on a zero hours contract was killed by a train while placing warning devices on tracks near Purley, Surrey, last November.

As a Controller of Site Safety (COSS) he should have been watched by an assistant. His brother was rostered as his assistant that night. Both were booked by an agency which 'engages self-employed individuals on zero-hours contracts'. The assistant was in bed; he was booked to work 60 hours that week in his daytime parcels-delivery job.

[...] British Transport Police has investigated ghosting 'involving other contractors' for more than 10 years. But Network Rail's contracting regime causes other safety problems. After a 125mph express nearly hit trackworkers in 2917, it emerged that people on zero-hours contracts feared losing work if they complained about unsafe practices. [...]

By outsourcing maintenance, Network Rail can conform to government employment rules while exploiting the gig economy.

If systemic errors are revealed in the course of the Margam investigation, I trust that the new Transport Minister, Grant Shapps, will not hesitate to correct them.

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