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Past incidents must be “catalyst” for rail safety improvements

IOSH Rail Conference 2018

Serious safety incidents like the Sandilands tram crash must be “the catalyst for positive change” in the future, a leading rail industry conference heard.

While major strides have been made in reducing fatalities and injuries on the UK’s railways in recent years – making it a comparatively safe means of travel – the November 2016 crash in London showed there is still room for improvement.

At the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) annual Rail Industry Conference, Ian Skinner, of the UK’s Office of Rail and Road (ORR), said investigators found the tram overturned because it travelled too fast on a corner – and that passengers had previously raised concerns about drivers ignoring speed restrictions.

Following the crash, which killed seven and injured 62, a report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch gave 15 recommendations for improving safety.

Ian, who is the ORR’s Head of Heritage, Trams and Light Rail, said: “We must establish and implement the recommendations from the report as soon as we can. It’s crucial that Sandilands is a catalyst for positive change in the sector.

“The corner at Sandilands had a limit of 20kph but the tram was going faster. It is clear the driver didn’t have an awareness of the environment.”

One of the changes which is set to come out of the recommendations is the establishment of a safety and standards board for light rail, which is currently being developed.

The conference, held at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester on Tuesday 20 November, heard that tram operators across the UK have traditionally had their own safety management systems, but the new board will help to pull this together.

Mark Ashmore, Safety Assurance Manager for UK Tram, said: “[The board] will promote an open and collaborative culture to drive a shared knowledge bank on risks faced and mitigation.”

Mark said learning from past incidents, the theme of the conference, is just one of many challenges that the whole rail industry faces as it moves into the future. Other challenges include changes to government policy and the introduction of new technology.

The latter presents major opportunities as well as challenges, the conference heard.

“With new technology, we will see the integration of light rail and other forms of transport,” Mark added.

One major opportunity presented by advances in technology is the ability to be more prepared, according to Stuart Marshall, Senior Risk Manager at QBE. Stuart said that in the rail industry in particular, organisations can be prepared for bad weather as the winter months approach.

He highlighted the risks of slips and trips on platforms, footbridges and other parts of the rail network and how new technology, including improved, long-range forecasting, can help ensure areas are cleared and gritted.

Stuart said: “When it comes to risks at stations, one size doesn’t fit all. Technology can help with identifying areas where action is needed and can also monitor what actions have been taken.”

While there are many safety risks in the rail industry, Mike Barraclough, also a Senior Risk Manager at QBE, said slips and trips is a “major problem”, particularly because it is under-reported.

He said rail companies don’t find out about the majority of cases because people are too busy to report them so they often don’t view them as a priority issue.

“People are in a rush, trying to get trains, trying to get to work, trying to get home, so if they do slip or trip they don’t bother reporting it,” said Mike. “If they don’t get reported, companies don’t find out about it, so are unable to respond to areas of concern.”

The annual conference, organised by IOSH’s Railway Group, was attended by over 100 rail industry leaders and safety experts. It was chaired by IOSH Vice-President Jonathan Hughes.

In the UK, there were seven passenger fatalities in 2017-18, as well as 318 major injuries on the national rail system. Causes ranged from platform edge incidents and contact with objects and other people to slips, trips and falls. In the same year, two workers were killed and 6,661 injured in workplace incidents.

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IOSH is the Chartered body for health and safety professionals. With more than 47,000 members in over 130 countries, we’re the world’s biggest professional health and safety organisation.