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Safety for the thinking man

According to a safety poster quoted in a recent Network Rail press release, “If we keep where we work tidy we’ll be making it safer for ourselves and our mates.” This is the mantra of the firm’s latest Safety 365 campaign intended to cut the 40% of serious reportable accidents that are caused by slips, trips and falls. And more power to their elbow I say - anything that reduces accidents has to be applauded.

Poster: Network Rail

Along with some leaflets, the poster and press release have been sent to 200 depots, encouraging employees to always think safety. They say that with so many staff working in environments that have uneven and hazardous surfaces, falls are an ever-present danger so the poster urges staff to be tidy.

Unfortunately that seems to be the sum total of this initiative’s input. Think tidy. Apparently we can now improve safety just by thought which Network Rail will transmit via some form of extrasensory perception. You have to admit, in these days when cost cutting is everything, it’s a very cheap option - much cheaper than actually doing something about the mess that’s the principal cause of most slip, trip and fall accidents.

During my time on the railway, the one place you could guarantee to come a cropper was out and about on the track - just about the most untidy place imaginable. I’m talking about the ‘real railway’: not the Photoshopped creation of the ad man, but a scrap-infested place with heaps of unused ballast, overgrown buddleia, junk piled alongside cables, signal wires and channel rodding. This is the real workplace of our on-track workers, in all weather conditions and in both daylight and darkness.
During my time on the railway, the one place you could guarantee to come a cropper was out and about on the track...

Maybe Network Rail should practice what it preaches and tidy up its infrastructure. That would really drive down those 40% of accidents, giving staff the safe working environment they deserve…and are legally entitled to.

And while they’re thinking about safety, perhaps they ought to look at how the media relations team for London & South East highlighted Network Rail’s apprenticeship scheme in press releases on 3rd October. They show four young newcomers posing on their knees in the four-foot, looking into camera. Do they really think this promotes a good safety message? Maybe it was done to show a more ergonomically-friendly place rather than the cess which is, of course, littered with potential slip, trip and fall hazards.

Apprentices Andy Fox and Andy Wheeler, posing in the four-foot.
Photo: Network Rail

The truth is that it’s easy to produce a poster; it’s easy to place the responsibility on the shoulders of those exposed to the risk. That’s what suits do too often - take the easy option and offload the problem. But that doesn’t make it the right. If they’re really serious about safety - not just paying lip-service to it - they’d go that extra mile. What would make the biggest difference - creating safe walkways alongside our railways or printing a pretty leaflet?

Story added 1st January 2012

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