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All white on the site

With the oil market in more turmoil than Fern Britton’s innards, petrol price landmarks come and go like ships in the night. The £1 litre seems a distant memory now - indeed Exeter teetered on the brink of a £2 litre during June’s tanker drivers’ dispute.

The £1 gallon arrived with the 1980s. Just around the corner lurked another culture shock for motorists. Since midnight on 31st January 1983, most front-seat vehicle occupants have been compelled to restrain themselves with seat belts. Campaigners claimed that a thousand annual deaths could be prevented; opponents bemoaned more intrusion by the nanny state.

I transported a septuagenarian last month. Only the relentless nagging of my car’s piercing alert could persuade him to belt up. Amongst our higher-mileage population, some resistance to this law persists. Meantime, for those who’ve grown up with it, clunk-click has largely become second nature.

Three years ago, when Network Rail first insisted that trackside heads must always be encased in protective headgear, the RMT led a campaign - unsuccessful as it transpired - against this unwarranted edict. Managerial convenience always triumphs over practitioner irritation. Why go to the effort of carefully assessing risks when you can impose blanket policies on others which make life behind your desk that bit less arduous?

Eventually a little ground was given. Patrolmen, if employed by NR, are exempt from wearing their hardhat as long as they don it when a train approaches. The same applies whilst walking to and from site. Of course, this concession is effectively meaningless as the most convenient place to carry it is on your head.

And so compulsory skidlids have gained grudging acceptance. Most of us no longer notice the sweat and discomfort. Thankfully - for me at any rate - mine has never seen real action. Its days are numbered however; in fact it will soon be buried at the local landfill. All together now…

From 1st September, a trackworker’s hardhat must be white. Not red; not yellow; certainly not green. New starters and the holders of Track Visitor Permits will wear blue - Pantone 2935c to be strictly accurate. My mind’s eye can already picture the health ‘n’ safety cardigans marching around site with their colour charts.
My mind's eye can already picture the health 'n' safety cardigans marching around site with their colour charts.

I’m an orange man myself. Irish roots probably. Wear as much high-visibility clothing as possible, I was always told. So HV orange makes sense. Of course, anything other than white would have compelled Network Rail to invest in 15,000 new hardhats. There was never much chance of that. A cynic might suspect that this edict is more about uniform than safety benefit. Whatever the motivation, white is what’s required so get yourself round to Arco before the month is out.

Whilst in the realm of Standards tweaks, it’s possible that a noteworthy rule change could have passed you by recently. Needless to say it’s not in the Rule Book - that would be far too sensible - though it does make a belated appearance in this month’s PON. It resides in the fuzzy world of Temporary Non-Compliances.

Since mid-June, the maximum time permitted for a T12 line blockage has been increased from 30 to 60 minutes. Other restrictions, such as the limit on workgroup size, remain. Network Rail believes it will make T12 practical for some jobs which currently demand lookout protection. Of course, if adjacent lines remain open, anyone with sense will still appoint a lookout instead of relying on the dodgy remould known as a site warden. But that’s another rant…

A little bird tells me that a more significant revamp of line blockages could emerge over the next 12 months. This is likely to impact on T2 and T3 as well as bringing more relaxations to the back-of-a-fag-packet restrictions surrounding T12. Let’s hope approval isn’t sought from the Pigeon English Campaign again.

Those of us who take T2s already understand the need to navigate a route around the current procedural quagmire, replacing it with a simple and consistent suite of rules. That’s a mouth-watering combination which would drive up compliance, reduce irregularities and help to build the efficiency improvements craved by all.

Some experts reckon the oil price could stabilise before the year’s end; miracles though will take a little longer.

Story added 1st August 2008
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