We are recommending that the railway industry reviews the way it manages the use of staff on zero-hours contracts
Network Rail under pressure to change work conditions
The Port Talbot deaths were a major wake-up call for Network Rail. Campaigners criticised the firm for its working conditions and said repeated warnings have gone unheeded.
RAIB issued a warning in April 2019 which said there were “too many near misses in which railway workers have had to jump for their lives” and every near miss should be regarded as a "failure to deliver safety.”
One of the main reasons rail workers are increasingly susceptible to be in the midst of a rail accident is zero-hour contracts. The chief inspector of rail accidents Simon French called out the rail industry for employing workers on zero-hour contracts which “can be great pressure for the [workers] to try and juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.”
“We are recommending that the railway industry reviews the way it manages the use of staff on zero-hours contracts,” French said, adding that Network Rail must manage the risks associated with it which can be fatigue and lack of a proper lifestyle.
In September 2018, overworking even caused an underground train driver on the Jubilee line to drive for 56 seconds in full-speed with the doors open. An investigation by RAIB revealed in July 2019 said the driver was most likely influenced by a sudden increase in workload.
Image: NS3270 | shutterstock.com
Safety first: protecting railway workers must be prioritised
Industry insiders say rail companies must implement better working hours for employees as “fatigue linked to poorly planned shift work patterns or long working hours can lead to human error, ill health, injury and reduced productivity,” says director of Working Time Solutions, Martin Gee who has worked in the transport and logistics sector to increase worker safety.
“Alongside planning, better monitoring and management of shift workers is vital. To identify and mitigate risk around fatigue, you must have accurate, real-time visibility over an individual’s worked hours, rest, holiday and absence,” Gee declares. “Only then can you spot potential issues that may lead to fatigue and make informed management decisions about how to deploy working time.”
While fatigue in workers must be addressed, in many instances challenges can be unpredictable. Business development manager at wireless monitoring solutions provider for the geospatial, construction and rail industry, Senceive, Darran Streeton says: “Whether problems arise from fallen trees, landslips or extreme temperature changes, there is potential for something to go wrong.”
Rigorous health and safety procedures to protect workers comes at a high cost – £70m in Network Rail’s case. However, it’s in the interest of the rail companies to ensure they don’t fail to keep workers safe, or they could face even more costly consequences.
“Companies can be faced with huge time-consuming investigations that could result in costly court proceedings, financial payouts or fines and negative publicity,” Streeton notes. “It can take years to build up trust and a good reputation, and companies want to maintain that as much as they can - not only for public perception but for tender consideration and winning business.”
Alongside planning, better monitoring and management of shift workers is vital