November 13th 2006
The village of Acton Turville is destined to be remembered by many rail workers for all the wrong reasons! It is a small place on the Great Western Main Line near Badmington, between Swindon and Bristol. First Swietelsky are Network Rail’s “partner contractor” on the accelerated track renewals recovery programme currently being undertaken there.
Tamper and Regulator collided
At just after 2300 hours on the night of Tuesday 31st October Network Rail Tamper DR 73112 was following Ballast Regulator DR 77902 when they collided within the track possession. The impact was considerable.
Four people working on the machines, including the two drivers, were injured. Two were taken to the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol and two others were taken to the Bath Royal United Hospital. I understand that the worst injuries are to the head and arm of one of the injured men, but thankfully no one has injuries, which can be described as life threatening.
“The ballistic potential of damaged springs”
So severe was the impact that the emergency services feared that heavy springs could be released from one of the damaged machines and might fly as far as 500 metres. Consequently as a precaution against what has been described elsewhere in the media as, “the ballistic potential of the damaged springs”, five or six nearby houses were evacuated.
The police contacted the owners of the local pub in the village, The Fox and Hounds, and asked them to look after the two-dozen evacuees. After being served with coffee during the night and later with breakfast, they were allowed to return to their homes at around 0745 when all had been made safe. The scene was cleared and the track inspected before trains started running again at around 1500 hours.
Network Rail has already confirmed that they “take incidents such as this very seriously, and will be holding a full investigation to understand why this incident happened.”
Stop, think and take a little extra care
I have always believed that such events, and indeed all accidents, incidents and near misses should be shared with all who work on track. If just one person is saved from a serious injury or worse as a result, because they stop and think or take a little additional care, it must be worth doing.
Waving a long goodbye?
The long running Safety Net video series began with the objective of doing just that. I was surprised when I received a copy of their latest and I suspect last edition Safety Net 29. It is still funded by Rail Safety and Standards Board and carries on the back cover the logo of the now defunct Track Safety Strategy Group. Albeit the words “Track Safety Strategy Group” have been removed from alongside his knees!
You may remember he has his right arm raised as if acknowledging the sound of a driver’s horn as it approaches him on track. At least that was always my understanding of the raised arm, but maybe he has been waving a long goodbye!
Over the years these videos issued every quarter, and at one time alternated with countrywide newsletters, which were seen by almost everyone who worked on track, were sent to most employers. But the newsletters no longer appear and the last Safety Net 28 was issued back last January! That edition had a running time of over 18 minutes, edition 29 lasts just over 13! In its favour, it mentions Safety 365 and Iain Coucher, Deputy Chief Executive Network Rail, appears in it.
What they need on the day to do the job
Safety Net grew out of shared concerns and a TSSG where supervisors and others who do and organise the work on track met and discussed safety initiatives for the industry. Sadly the safety professionals, with their own particular brand of management consultancy speak, have now taken over.
Chris Isgar, earnest, with helmet pulled well down, has been the presenter for a while. He is described as a Safety Critical Trainer. The item on the trialling of the new Task Briefing sheets due to be introduced from December seems a bit out of date. For this item Network Rail’s Western Track Safety Manager John Jones was interviewed. Mick Stormonth from Rail Safety and Standards Board also appears and succinctly describes the Task Briefing sheet as “giving people what they need on the day to do the job”.
What happens if the string breaks?
Colin Tigg, a Project Manager for Network Rail was evidently filmed during daylight hours on a track renewal site on the West Coast main Line. He describes the method they have been using when working on the middle lines of four without a T2 possession, using a temporary dispensation.
ATWS with treadle activation is used to warn those working of the approach of a train on the line adjacent to their work. The ATWS warning allows time for the machines to stop work as directed by the Machine Controllers, and a gauge stick is then used to ensure that they are clear.
As a back up, which the narrator tells us has never yet been needed, one poor ATWS hand signaller sits all day apparently pulling a piece of string intermittently! He has the mind numbing job of manipulating the control string which swings a pair of detonators either onto or away from the railhead. He is contacted by radio by his ATWS Controller. This is a back up precaution with the detonators sited far enough away for the 20 mph speed restricted train to stop before reaching the work group should they still be foul of the open line.
We are not told what happens if the string breaks!
Rule Book changes delayed Safety Net 29, refers specifically to the intention that the Rule Book changes allowing everyone to work in this way, hopefully without a length of string and detonators, should be in the December Rule Book changes. Now I have been told that we may have to wait until next July or even longer for “procedural reasons”. Sounds a bit like the tail wagging the dog to me!
Another safety manager, but with a message
The next Network Rail manager to talk on camera is Paul Hancock one of their Maintenance Workforce Safety Advisers (yet another safety professional on camera). He describes their latest efforts to reduce injuries and accidents caused by lifting heavy equipment. The latest training courses involve fifteen to twenty minutes in the classroom followed by practical training outside. However, he adopts a practical approach and claims that the initiative has already reduced reportable accidents as a result of the training. Around 11,000 people had been trained by the time the video was shot.
The simple messages when lifting and carrying are keep one foot in front of the other, unlock the knees before lifting, use knees and thighs as part of the lift, keep the load close and make sure the way is clear in front of you. All good stuff, but so easy to forget!
Iain Coucher of Network Rail
I was delighted to see Iain Coucher featured in Safety Net 29 and hope that he will visibly take the lead in future. For a long time I have recommended that Network Rail should lead a nationwide safety effort involving all track workers, whoever their employers are, and that a prominent well known director should be personally involved.
As the Deputy Chief Executive of Network Rail with a reputation for making things happen, he is the ideal person. He acknowledges that “there are risks out there”, and goes on to say that we need to make sure people understand the risks, and how they should behave to be safe if faced with those risks. He admits that in the past different briefings have said different things about the same risks, but that the intention now is to make sure that future messages are consistent under “a single umbrella - Safety 365”.
Safety Net will continue, under the Safety 365 banner
Iain Coucher’s message about the future of Safety Net, and his endorsement of its value to all who work on track, is particularly welcome. He refers to its distribution to hundreds of organisations (do you get to see it?) and says that it will continue in future, being issued quarterly to suit thirteen week briefing cycles. He gives an assurance that this frequency will not be reduced, commenting that it “remains a very powerful way of getting the message across”.
He says it will be branded “Safety 365” in future, will be clear and consistent, and will inform everyone of “the definitive way to handle safety”. He also says that the “videos” (although Safety Net 28 was the last in VHS format, 29 and the future looks like being in CD and DVD formats only) will be issued “in addition to leaflets, newsletters and other things”.
It may surprise some readers but I find myself with no other option but to endorse and commend all that Iain Coucher says in Safety Net 29! I am surprised myself. I will naturally be watching carefully to see how well the safety message is promoted in future. Maybe there is a case for changing the old logo to a track worker beckoning rather than waving!
Sharing the factual details of accidents
To return briefly to Acton Turville; accidents and incidents continue to occur. I spoke at a meeting on the evening of Tuesday 7th November to a number of PTS card-carrying track people. Not a single one of them, including the local Network Rail staff, had heard about the Acton Turville accident.
As I said earlier, I believe sharing the basic details of such incidents with all track staff is always worth doing, and should be done quickly for maximum effect. The message will be getting round by the time you read this, but will it be accurately reported by the grapevine?
We have the benefit of e-mail nowadays. There are plenty of safety specialists around. Some even speak ordinary comprehensible English. Without prejudging any subsequent inquiry, can we please have a Network Rail led system that ensures brief factual details are made available to all Sentinel cardholders quickly? How about it Mr. Coucher?
And the near misses
And while we are about it, can we try and find ways of encouraging “near miss”, or should that be “near hit” reporting? Both would be good ways of improving safety by raising the awareness of individuals. You cannot tell people too often to put safety first. How about it Mr. Coucher?
Is there enough time for these two proposals to be embraced at the Projects & Engineering Supplier Safety Forum, which is to be held in London on Friday December 8th?