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Cath Everett

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Atmosphere of fear leads to accidents going unreported


An overzealous safety culture at Network Rail meant that workers failed to report up to a two out of five accidents over a five year period because they were “fearful” of the repercussions.

An inquiry by the Rail Safety and Standards Board estimated that, in most instances, staff made a conscious decision not to notify the company of up to 600 minor accidents and incidents that kept them off work for more than three days between 2005 and 2010.
The main reasons were that they were “fearful” of reporting them in case they were marked out as trouble-makers and lost their jobs. Employees were also put off by the prospect of being named and shamed on internal lists, while section managers were fearful of having to travel to London to discuss the situation with a company director.
Contractors likewise felt under pressure to meet Network Rail’s Accident Frequency Rate targets, while those on zero-hour contracts were worried in case they would not be re-hired.
Investigators recommended that the firm scrap the AFR targets and also reconsider its ‘Safety 365 Challenge’, in which staff and departments were rewarded for having an accident-free year with certificates and gifts of branded fleeces and mugs. Failure to obtain a certificate, however, could lead to a downgrading.
Anson Jack, the RSSB’s director of risk, said that the pressure generated by the initiatives combined with Network Rail’s organisational culture led to the “unintended consequences” of accidents not being reported. The firm not only needed to address the problem, but also take steps to create a more open and “just” reporting culture, he added.
The probe rejected union claims that there was any link between driving down accident report and the payment of multi-million pound bonuses to directors, however.
Rick Haythornthwaite, Network Rail’s chairman, told the Guardian that the company would be “far more transparent” following the departure of former chief executive, Iain Coucher.
“It has been very centralised, command and control, and rules-based and that has been instrumental in delivering improvements. But there have been undesirable side-effects,” he said.
The investigation was commissioned in June after industry watchdog, the Office of Rail Regulation, and unions noticed Network Rail’s staff appeared to suffer fewer minor workplace injuries than the number of reported serious injuries suggested that they should.


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