The head of Network Rail has attacked the sector’s poor safety record and ‘macho’ culture, challenging industry leaders to reduce the hundreds of workplace accidents each year.
Mark Carne said the rail industry has not kept pace with other heavy engineering sectors, which has caused it to have injury rates 10-times higher than offshore oil and gas. In a wide-ranging speech often critical of Network Rail and the industry, Carne, whose background is in offshore oil and gas, stressed that safety performance and business performance go hand in hand.
“While our passenger safety performance is the best in Europe, about 600 railway workers a year – employees and contractors – are injured to the extent that they cannot return to work the next day,” he said in the 25 February speech.
“If I were back in oil and gas a comparable figure for the same amount of hours worked would be fewer than 60 people – the difference is that stark. That means that over 500 of our people are getting hurt every year, well over one a day, because our work practices have not kept pace with comparable heavy engineering industries.”
He said the industry is focused on punctuality as the main measure of success and that while workers will try to carry out their jobs safely, they know that “performance is king”. He added that business leaders “sometimes, perhaps inadvertently, reinforce this message by sending signals that suggest we don’t care as deeply as we could about our workforce and their safety and health”.
“We need to turn this around,” he added. “I know that if we focus on what it takes to do things safely, performance will follow.”
He lamented the fact that only 14% of Network Rail’s workforce is female, adding, “it is hardly surprising that under such circumstances we still have what many would describe as a macho culture within the company”.
The general secretary of rail union RMT, Mick Cash, called for an end to “fragmentation and casualisation” of the workforce in a bid to reverse the accident figures.
He said: “RMT has warned repeatedly that the safety culture on Network Rail has been diluted by savage cuts to staffing and the proliferation of agencies and contractors which has led to casualisation of safety critical work and a surge in staff on zero hours contracts. Those warnings have come home to roost with a vengeance in these shocking figures.”
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