Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Trades Union Congress (FOR 125)

  I understand that, at a recent hearing of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, the issue of enforcement of health and safety within the railways was raised.

  I am writing to give the Trades Union Congress's view. The current arrangement ensures that the regulation and enforcement of health and safety is independent of the industry. As such it is more effective, and transparent. Despite a number of recent tragic and high-profile accidents, the number of fatalities and injuries on the railways has been decreasing over the past decade.

  Were regulation of safety to be transferred either to the Government department responsible for transport (as was the case prior to 1990) or to the Office of the Rail Regulator then they would no longer be able to draw on the wider expertise of an organisation which oversees a wide range of industries. One of the strengths of the current arrangements is that it allows expertise and lessons learnt from outwith the industry to be applied to the rail industry.

  It is also important that the same standards of safety and risk management principles are consistently applied and enforced across all or industry, and that the rail industry is not treated any differently from other industries. A separate regulatory regime for one industry would not be consistent with that. Additionally, many of the companies operating on the railways are not solely rail companies. In fact many are construction or maintenance companies operating as contractors who are undertaking similar work for industries outside the railways. To have a separate body responsible for enforcing safety in the railways will mean these companies will have to operate to different regimes, and potentially different standards depending on the industry in which they work.

  The current arrangements allow for consultation with the workforce on safety issues, through the Railway Industry Advisory Committee and the Health and Safety Commission, both of which have employee and employer representatives sitting on them in equal numbers. These bodies also deal with the wider issues of health and safety such as fatigue, stress, back pain and other occupational health issues which are responsible for far more injuries than rail accidents. The Committee will be aware that in his second report on the Ladbroke Grove Public Inquiry, Lord Cullen emphasised the important role that employee elected safety representatives have in the rail industry (Paragraph 4.99).

  We would be concerned if there was any move to compromise safety on the railways by moving it to any body which was primarily responsible for the economic regulation, or political control of the industry as this could lead to discussions on safety being made on political or economic grounds.

  However we would wish to emphasise that the HSE must have sufficient resources to allow it to work with the rail industry in developing and enforcing appropriate standards to ensure the safety of both the public and the staff who work on our railways. That has not always been the case.

  The TUC hopes that the Select Committee will share its view that safety on the railways must be paramount. That can best be achieved by ensuring that the railways are regulated in a way that is consistent with other industries.

Brendan Barber

General secretary

January 2004

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