Rise in railworker deaths: Safety bosses look on the bright side
Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) Policy and Strategic Initiatives Director, Aidan Nelson described 2004 as: "a year in which the sustained efforts of the industry to address risk from (SPADs) and trespass can be seen to be bearing fruit."
He added: "However, last November's collision at Ufton Nervet is a stark reminder of the need to work with the wider community to address the harm that can arise from level crossing misuse".
However, Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union commenting on the nine deaths of rail workers in 2004 said the stark figures contained in the Annual Safety Performance Report for 2004 reveal "an indication of a serious problem".
RSSB stressed the fall in the number of SPADs on Network Rail's infrastructure (from 379 in 2003 to 346 in 2004) and a fall in trespasser fatalities by 31% in orxder to put a favourable spin on their annual report. However, Britain's rail safety bosses can take very little comfort from the latest SPAD figures, which have risen in the first three months of 2005.
The major findings contained in the RSSB report are the sustained and dramatic rise in fatalities and major injuries to trackworkers and a fifth successive year of increases in assaults on rail staff, which rose by 6% in 2004, to 3,847 incidents.
The RSSB report also lends support to RMT's campaign for renationalisation of the rail industry, revealing that despite Network Rail taking infrastructure maintenance in-house during 2003/4, the group of railworkers most vulnerable to death and major injury at work are those still employed by companies under contract to Network Rail.
In its report WORKFORCE HEALTH AND SAFETY RSSB summarises rail industry objectives as to ensure that:
* during 2003/04, there is no accidental fatality to any worker engaged in railway-related activity
* by 2009, the risk of accidental major injury to any group of workers on NRCI and stations will be no greater than one in 750 employees per year.
* Railway Group members will, by March 2004, reduce the incidence of assaults on staff on NRCI and stations by 10% of the April 2002 rate."
Yet RSSB reports in its Workforce safety summary:
"Headline performance for workforce safety was poor in 2004, with large increases in fatalities and major injuries to trackworkers. Overall harm increased by 43% ? In short of the four objectives, those on fatalities, major injuries and assaults saw no progress, while that on occupational health saw some progress.
"Workforce harm: there were nine fatalities (eight trackworkers and one driver), the second highest since 1992. Major injuries also increased by 32% to 162, none of this increase relating to train operators' staff. Cases of non-clinical shock, which generally affect train operators' staff, reduced by 31% to 1,303: fatalities remain the main trigger event.
"Trackworkers: 2004 was a particularly bad year with eight fatalities (including four in a single accident at Tebay) and 124 major injuries, compared to the three fatalities and 83 major injuries in 2003. This is disappointing given the consistent high priority afforded to trackworker safety, albeit that some of the initiatives made little headway in 2004. This performance coincided with Network Rail re-organising its management and bringing maintenance in-house." - RSSB Annual Safety Performance Report, 2004, Workforce safety 5.1 Summary P154
5a (i) Workforce fatalities - trackworkers: Objective Not met
Objective: no workforce fatality in any occupation
Performance: eight trackworker fatalities in 2004, the highest number since 1991, with no year free of fatalities since 1997. The 2004 three-year average fatality rate (3.2 per 20,000 trackworkers) was a 27% deterioration from the 2003 rate (of 2.51). The three-year trackworker fatality rate equates to an annual chance of fatality of 1 in 6,250.
5a (i) Workforce fatalities - train drivers: Objective Not met
Objective: no workforce fatality in any occupation
Performance: one driver fatality in 2004. The 10-year average (0.93 fatalities per 20,000 train drivers), improved by 22% due to 1994 falling out of the average. The 10-year average train driver rate equates to an annual chance of fatality of about 1 in 21,500.
5a (ii) Workforce major injuries - trackworkers: Objective No progress
Objective: to reduce major injury rate to 1 per 750 workers by 2009.
Performance: deteriorated by 34.9% to 3.1 per 750 trackworkers in 2004, an increase from 83 to 124 major injuries. While there is evidence that hours worked has increased, a consistent basis is needed for estimating working time. Half the increase is in slips, trips and falls. Other staff major injuries (38) remained constant.
5b Assaults: Objective Not met
Objective: to reduce assaults on staff by 10%, by March 2004.
Performance: Recorded assaults rose by 5.7%, to 3,847 in 2004. There is evidence that this is due to more complete reporting of verbal assaults, rather than more assaults on staff. 90% of the 2004 increase was in verbal assaults. Injuries arising from assaults were virtually unchanged, although reportable injuries reduced.
Chart 83 shows that:
the level of harm occurring to staff under contract to Network Rail increased by 35% in 2004, despite maintenance activities progressively transferring to Network Rail employees. The increase is found in fatalities (from three to eight), major injuries (from 83 to 90), but not in minor injuries.
In 2004 there was a substantial increase in the level of harm arising from Network Rail's maintenance and renewals activities (65% higher than in 2003). With fatalities matching the high level of 1992 and major injuries exceeding any level in the previous 13 years, performance in 2004 was the worst of recent years. While some of this increase might be explained by greater levels of activity, it undoubtedly constitutes a sharp deterioration performance.
It is likely that the increase is real and not due to increased reporting because the proportion of minor injuries (that are generally less well recorded) has decreased.
Interpreting the trend in fatalities
Trackworkers have amongst the highest levels of occupational risk in the UK, only exceeded by the recycling industry. There are substantial challenges: the work is similar to that of construction industry and is performed in the open often on unlevelled ground; there are the lethal hazards of exposed high-voltage electricity supply and moving trains. However, it is concerning that while the occupational risk of some other high risk occupations has been better in recent years, in particular in the construction industry, such improvements are not evident for trackworkers.
For drivers only the calendar year result is shown because it is above average (at 2.2 per 100,000 employees) - three times the all-industry average level (of 0.7 per 100,000).
Violence at work
Although the railway had set itself an objective (a 10% reduction by March 2004) success in progressively reducing under-reporting (particularly of verbal assaults) has caused the incidents reported into SMIS to increase, swamping what may be happening to the actual level of assaults.
Violence at work is often referred to as 'assault', with the definition adopted by the railway covering physical assault, verbal assault (including verbal abuse) and the threat of violence. The latest RSSB topic report (Railway Crime Report, February 2005) reviewed staff assaults and concluded:
Impact and level of assaults: assaults rose for the fifth successive year, increasing by 6% in 2004, to 3,847 incidents. However, the number of physical injuries arising has now levelled off (equating to 6.7 ef), as has the number of physical assaults (at just over 2,800). This increase was mainly due to verbal assaults, which suggests that the rise in assaults probably reflects better recording rather than an increase in the actual level of assaults on railway staff.
Nature of assaults: 53% of assaults occur at stations (which also accounted for the small increase in 2004) and almost all the remainder are on-board trains (which have the larger proportion of verbal assaults). The revenue protection function, platform staff and on-board staff are the groups most affected. The number of assaults related to fare evasion account for about 30% of the total, although for the first time in recent years they remained broadly unchanged in 2004. Women report more non physical assaults than men.
Pattern during day: the pattern of assaults through the day does not correspond to the level of traffic, with the evening traffic peak suffering about twice the level of assaults as the morning peak, and the evening and late evening continuing at a high level. This corresponds to when passenger intoxication and frustrations with services are likely to be greatest.
Injuries arising: injuries from assaults were broadly unchanged in 2004, and there were fewer cases of shock, but more no-injury assaults recorded. However, assaults including those that involve no physical injury, do lead to time off work: under one day when averaged over all cases of assault, or 30 man-years in total. There is some evidence to suggest that the average amount of time-off for cases where lost time occurs has reduced (to seven days).
You can download the full report here or at http://www.rssb.co.uk/aspr.asp