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CN Briefing: ORR; Network Rail; health and safety; fatalities

Almost two years ago I sat down with Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne for an interview with CN. He wanted to talk about safety.

In fact, I got the feeling he would happily have talked safety for the entire hour we chatted.

His message was clear: the rail industry was not safe enough, and he wanted to take action.

Since then, Mr Carne and Network Rail have come under fire for project delays, so his focus has been diverted elsewhere.

But today’s annual health and safety report by the ORR makes for good reading for Network Rail and other rail operators. For the first time, there wasn’t a single recorded fatality of a worker on Britain’s railways.

Perhaps, in Network Rail’s case, ranking contractors on their health and safety performance has helped.

While leadership is vital, it’s the engineers and contractors on the ground who will be taking health and safety by the scruff of the neck.

There is rightly a reluctance to hail good stats in this area, as there is always more work to be done. But sometimes it’s worth saying, ‘Bravo’.

Construction is a dangerous industry, with almost 50 people killed last year. If rail is getting its act together at a time when it’s under incredible pressure from regulators, passengers, the media and politicians, then it deserves credit for doing so.

The scale of the challenge in future is perhaps best described by the growth occurring in rail.

Over the last 10 years, passenger growth on the network has increased 57 per cent; there were 1.69bn passenger journeys in 2015/16.

While major injury harm amongst the workforce was reduced by 14 per cent, 37 per cent of the 157 major injuries involved on-track infrastructure workers.

The ORR says the sector “lags behind other comparable industries who better manage harm to their infrastructure workers”.

It also highlight the need for greater focus on occupational health, on safety in design and on areas like risks in earthworks.

As ever, more to be done. But there are some serious signs of progress and, in such a difficult climate, that is encouraging to see.

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