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Three fatal accidents in five weeks

Family, friends and colleagues have been coming to terms with the deaths of three railway workers who lost their lives in unrelated accidents, all involving plant.

On 11 June, a three-man team was carrying out repairs to the overhead line at Margaretting in Essex. A Unimog 400 RRV - one of 28, bought at a cost of £6.5million in 2005 - with a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) was being used to access the equipment. Just before 2pm, their half-tonne metal basket broke free from its arm, throwing the men 15 feet to the ground. It landed on two of them, causing serious injuries. 64-year-old Malcolm Slater died three weeks later.

Network Rail immediately banned the use of demountable MEWP modules pending an investigation. The RMT had previously voiced concerns about the single weld which was used to attach the basket to the arm. It claims that inspections later found cracks in welds on two other hoists at the same site. General Secretary Bob Crow said that "We have been warning that safety standards are suffering because of the increasing pressure on Network Rail to save money."

At 1230 on 24 June, 42-year-old David Salkeld, acting as a banksmen, was crushed between a JCB and dumper truck in a compound at Mill Lane bridge, Brigg, Lincolnshire. An employee of AMCO, he was flown by air ambulance to hospital in Scunthorpe but succumbed to his injuries.

Then on the morning of 12 July, 41-year-old Mark Murray from South Reddish, Stockport was crushed by the wheels of a road-rail machine. The incident happened just south of Rugby Station during works on the West Coast Main Line upgrade. It's understood that the casualty, employed by Leeds-based contractor Leda Rail, was controlling the RRV at the time of the accident. He leaves a partner and nine-month old son.

In a statement, Mark's family described him as "a wonderful caring person with an infectious smile and wicked sense of humour. All his family and friends are devastated by the news of his sudden death. Our hearts are broken".

As a result of the Brigg and Rugby accidents, Network Rail issued a safety bulletin highlighting the need for machine controllers/banksmen to remain in clear site of the operator and for an effective means of communication to be maintained between them at all times. If in doubt, work should stop immediately.

Inquiries into all three deaths are continuing.

This is the worst period for workforce safety since a runaway trolley caused the deaths of four Carillion workers at Tebay in February 2004. The brakes on the trolley had been deliberately disconnected. Two years on, Mark Connolly, 44, and crane driver Roy Kennett, 29, were each found guilty of manslaughter. Connolly was jailed for nine years and Kennett for two.

Story last updated 23rd September 2008
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