Network Rail commits £70 million to improving safety for track workers

Track workers at Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands.

Network Rail has announced that it is setting up a special task force aimed at improving safety for track workers. Supported by a fund if £70m million, this initiative will bring together multiple strands of work from across the company, all aimed at improving safety for employees that work on the railway.

The new task force will be headed up by Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s group safety, technical and engineering director.  It has been set up in response to criticism by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the railway’s safety regulator, which has signalled its concern by issuing Network Rail with two improvement notices, seeking get the company to do more to improve track-worker safety.

The announcement also comes in the wake of the recent deaths of two workers at Margam, South Wales, tragically killed by a train on Wednesday 3 July in broad daylight.

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail.

Martin Frobisher commented on the setting up of the new task force: “We have been working with the ORR and our trade unions for many months to help us make working on the railway safer. Like our regulator, we want to see speedier progress.

“The tragic deaths in Wales last week are a stark reminder to us all that more needs to be done. We will rise to that challenge as losing more of our railway family is not something we can tolerate.

“Everyone should expect to get home safe, every day, and while our track record has been good and improving, there are still too many close-calls and that will be addressed.”

The task force will accelerate its current ‘Near Miss Reduction Programme’ and will pull together multiple programmes, which have been running for the past eight months or so, to improve track-worker safety, including:

  • Safer trackside working programme – designing and developing new protection and warning systems using digital technology to warn workers of approaching trains;
  • Planning and delivering safe work programme – to improve the planning of track-side work, giving clarity of who’s in charge and ensuring good quality briefings are undertaken before work starts;
  • Sentinel improvements – Sentinel is a software platform that manages workers’ competencies enabling colleagues to know that people working are correctly trained and have up-to-date competencies. New apps and hand-held devices are being rolled out;
  • Fatigue improvement programme – better managing working time, travelling time and the impact of personal lifestyle on alertness and fitness for work;
  • Procuring for safety – to encourage and reward contractors for positive safety performance;
  • Medical standards project – targeting better health and fitness of our workforce;
  • Mental wellbeing and resilience project – to reduce stigma associated with mental health and provide the necessary tools and guidance to both line managers and employees allowing effective management of mental wellbeing at work;
  • Risk management – introducing better and more thorough work activity risk assessments so that risks and safety mitigations are better thought through and planned;
  • Safety hour programme – a dedicated hour a week where all workers take part in a facilitated hour-long conversation about health and safety in an environment where everybody feels comfortable raising issues and concerns, as well as providing a platform for all to address positive events and successes.
Track work at Kirkham and Wesham
station, Lancashire.

Network Rail wishes to involve the industry in the new task force, with all the key players that are able to help bring about improvements being invited to join the team, including the ORR, trades unions and contractors.

Support for the new task force comes from the top. Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines stated: “I don’t want to see another track-worker death, which is why we are today creating a new team backed by a hefty budget to drive change and make working on the railway safer for our people. I can’t think of a more important task.”

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