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Delude Retreat Indemnify Prevaricate Squander

Window dressing

I don’t do mornings. Breakfast is a meal best served at lunchtime. But at 6am, thanks to the world’s loudest alarm and a firm kick from the wife, I jemmied myself out of bed and motored 70 miles over the Pennines to a depot on the West Coast. It was safety induction day - a prerequisite to a site visit planned for the following week.

Seven of us assembled in the briefing room. The course leader (let’s call her Sylvia) breezed in and announced that the laptop had disappeared and there would be a ‘visuals deficit’. We sloped off for coffee and filled in a form.

Twenty minutes later the session began. "Joe Bloggs Rail is committed to safety. Safety always comes first." Sylvia passed around photographs of the board of directors and a flow chart showing the corporate structure. "We have a big presence in Japan and Australasia."

Sylvia would be our contact point for any safety issues or concerns….but she didn’t give us her phone number. "Giant Hogweed grows alongside many railway lines and is poisonous"….but she didn’t have a photo of it. By 9.30 we had filled in another form, taken ownership of a swipe card and were on our way home. We all agreed the whole adventure had been an unutterable waste of time and we were no wiser than when we arrived.
We all agreed the whole adventure had been an unutterable waste of time and we were no wiser than when we arrived.

A few days later and another unnaturally early start. At 9.30 I drove into the site car park and introduced myself to the COSS. There were nine of us in the group. First up, a briefing from the ATWS operator. "Continuous flashing lights and two blasts from the warning horns mean a train is coming. Four blasts from the warning horns but no flashing lights indicate a manual alert. A series of one second blasts from the warning horns and flashing lights for 24 seconds identifies a system fault. A piercing whistle and hot jet of steam means the kettle has boiled." Nine very blank faces.

The COSS spoke next. An excellent briefing - thorough, clear, relevant. We signed his form with relish and anticipation, eager to set foot on the ballast.

But no - we had yet to negotiate the site access controller. Another lengthy address ensued. I don’t recall the content - by this time I had lost the will to live and was busy searching for a firm anchoring point for my noose. We signed his form. And then the denouement - a ring binder was thrust into our hands. Inside were 39 A4 sheets. Ah, the delights of the method statement. More details about the contractor. Risk assessments. Rimini plan. Contact phone numbers (not Sylvia’s). Job methodology. Inside leg measurement of the tea lady’s cat. We signed to acknowledge the implausible notion that we had read and understood it. Ha! ‘War and Peace’ in five minutes? You must be joking.

At 11 o’clock - mentally exhausted and totally bemused - we were standing on the platform ramp. At last, the moment we had been preparing for. The window was fully dressed and the adrenalin was surging.

Site induction: tick. ATWS briefing: tick. COSS briefing: tick. SAC briefing: tick. Method statement: tick.

By 11.50 I was in my motor, scurrying back to Yorkshire. Fifty minutes to do the job, nine hours to soak up the safety treacle and associated travel. And we wonder why the media castigates the industry for its extravagance and paralysis. A decent COSS briefing would have sufficed. Instead we suffered death by health and safety. The plot has been totally lost.

Story added 1st October 2005
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