Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive that administers funds on behalf of the Joint Transport Committee of the North East Combined Authority and the North of Tyne Combined Authority, and which operates the Tyne and Wear Metro, has been fined £1.5 million after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the safety of staff, which resulted in the death of an employee at the company’s South Gosforth depot in July 2014.
Rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) prosecuted the company under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
John Bell died while working at height carrying out maintenance work on high voltage overhead cables. He was electrocuted after contacting a wire he believed to be isolated from the power supply, but, due to the incorrect installation of equipment, it was in fact live.
This was the second time that Bell had been injured at work while working on overhead lines. He had previously been injured in an incident on 3 February 2002. Nexus was subsequently prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for breach of its general duty under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £16,000. Mr Bell suffered serious head and chest injuries and was off work for more than a year.
In its investigation, industry regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found safety-critical procedures were ignored and some continued for a substantial period after Mr Bell’s death. These included failures to allow work to be carried out without the appropriate instructions for staff to prevent injury; work being undertaken without the required safety-critical permits; and serious inadequacies in policy documents covering ‘live line working’, which failed to include a requirement for staff to test all electrical wires before carrying out work.
ORR found lessons had not been learned over a number of years and problems persisted despite the death of Mr Bell, putting people at risk for a substantial period thereafter.
His Honour Judge Spragg, presiding at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Crown Court, fined Nexus £1.5 million and ordered the company to pay £172,390.98 in costs.
Speaking after the sentence was passed, Ian Prosser CBE, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR, said: “Nexus’ working practices were poor and continued so for a long time. This meant Nexus did not have the right measures in place to assess whether the Metro was being maintained safely.
“It is a fundamental safety requirement to test electrical equipment before any work takes place, but the failure to review and monitor safety-critical systems meant that lessons were not learned.
“This sadly contributed to the events which caused the death of Mr Bell. Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Mr Bell and I hope this result brings them some peace.”