Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by the Health and Safety Executive (FOR 122B)


  Further to our initial memorandum and the material provided on 16 January at the request of the Committee, we would like to make some points to clarify matters discussed at the hearing on 7 January.


  In Q1788 there was reference to two distinct research projects. A generic report "Literature Review on the Perceived Benefits and Disadvantages of UK Safety Case Regimes" was produced by Vectra Group Limited in August 2003 ( As was observed at the hearing, the project team made few specific comments on the rail sector; the report does, however, state: ". . . there does seem to be some degree of consensus that the SCR is an effective tool to ensure high levels of safety are developed and maintained within the privatised structure of the [rail] industry."

  There is also separate rail-specific research; in January 2003, HSE commissioned evaluation of the impact of the Railways (Safety Case) Regulations 2000. The work was undertaken by BOMEL Ltd, with economic support from National Economic Research Associates (NERA). This work confirmed the value of the current rail safety case regime in maintaining and improving safety. It showed that preparation of safety cases benefits railway operators, and the Regulations have stimulated more pro-active use of risk assessment, encouraging duty holders to explore specific risks in greater detail and prioritise control measures. The report is due to be published in early February 2004; key findings are summarised in the recent Discussion Document "Safety on the Railway—Shaping the Future":


  Following Q1872 there was discussion of the scope of this post. It might be helpful to the Committee to see the job advertisement and the further particulars provided to those interested in applying. These make it quite clear that the post involved leading HMRI in its operational matters. Copies are enclosed. In response to Q1877 and Q1897 there was reference to the Cullen recommendation giving rise to the post of Director of Rail Safety. The relevant extract from the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry (part 2) is set out below:

        "9.66 . . . Lastly, but by no means least, while I welcome the formation of a railways directorate within the HSE, it is plain that there is a need for the existing leadership of the HMRI to be reinforced through the addition of new imagination and energy. I recommend that it should be placed under the direction of a new post, to be filled by a person of outstanding managerial ability, not necessarily with a railway background. This post should be regarded as commanding a special salary level for the purpose."

  Thus the crucial factor was not experience from outside HSE (or indeed experience of the rail industry) but managerial ability.


  In response to Q1867 the following comments were made: " . . . when Cullen produced his Report it was agreed that HSE needed some help, it needed some more money to be able to do some of the things that Cullen required and it actually got £3.8 million from the Department of Transport to help it along. The Railway Inspectorate did not see one penny of that £3.8 million, it all went into setting up a big rail policy function—"

  In fact HMRI did receive a share of this money. The newly expanded policy team (required to carry out the legislative review called for by the Cullen report) was allocated about £1.9 million; about £1.3 million was allocated to the recruitment and salary of Mr Osborne and for expanding the cadre of inspectors in HMRI; and just under £0.5 million to expanding the legal support required for rail work. HSE absorbed a number of other overhead costs.

  As Mr Osborne observed, in response to Q1871, subsequently £4 million a year for two years was provided to carry on this work. For 2002-03 this was allocated as follows: approximately £2.4 million to HMRI (to include research and consultancy support); £1.3 million to rail policy work; and £0.3 million for legal work.


  In response to Q1842 reference was made to Mr Osborne's resignation from HSE. He did not resign; as noted by Mr Starling during oral evidence, he left by mutual agreement.


  In discussion of Q1869 and Q1870 doubt was cast on the proportion of inspectors in HMRI with experience of the railway industry. The position at December 2003 was that of 123 warrant-holding inspectors, 55 were Railway Specialist Inspectors, paid a premium for their railway knowledge and experience. Others include specialists recruited for their specialist knowledge in areas such as risk assessment, management systems, human factors and occupational health—skills not previously available to the Inspectorate.


  In discussion of Q1714 and Q1744, costs and potential safety benefits attaching to the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) were mentioned. It must be emphasised that this is a system for managing traffic which brings with it some safety benefits; it is not a safety initiative. The driver is found in EC single market Directives. HSE commissioned independent research (2002) into economic (and other) aspects of the ERTMS Programme Team's work and in light of the findings in February 2003 HSC provided pragmatic advice to Ministers that the timetable originally recommended by the Uff/Cullen report was not viable; regulations requiring ERTMS fitment were not appropriate at present in light of current state of technology; and endorsed industry preference for ERTMS Level 2.


  In response to Q1893 and Q1898 comments were made about governance in respect of HSC and HSE. For example, it was suggested that the absence of non-executive directors meant that HSE's Board was not properly constituted, and that HSC and the Board should not hold separate discussions of common topics. I refer the Committee to the material provided in our initial memorandum explaining the legally different functions of HSC and HSE, and the statutory position of the three-person Executive. HSC and the Board have different agendas reflecting their different roles. It could be argued that HSC fulfils a similar role to that of non-executive directors; to have both would duplicate effort and waste resource. Senior HSE officials attend HSC discussions. If the Committee would like any further information on this issue we should of course be happy to provide it.

  The Committee will no doubt be aware that the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee recently announced an inquiry "to examine the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive and the effectiveness of current arrangements to promote high standards of health and safety."


  In response to Q1671 there was reference to recommendations of the Potters Bar Investigation Board as "an example of nuclear standards being put into the railway". The formation of an independent investigation board (including external experts as well as senior staff from parts of HSE not directly involved in regulating the sector concerned) in response to a major incident is standard HSE practice. This is to provide independent oversight of the HSE investigation conducted by HMRI Inspectors and to secure impartial scrutiny of the prior role of the inspectorate concerned. In this case a senior nuclear inspector is one of the four members of the Investigation Board.

  Not surprisingly, given the circumstances of the derailment and the findings of the inspection of other points of this type on the network, the Investigation Board recommended (inter alia) a design review. This was both to provide a firm basis for the maintenance and inspection of the type of points used in the light of the present operating environment (at least 20% higher volume of traffic on the network since points of that type were approved for use); and specifically in the short term to see whether, for this type of points, more use could be made of better locking nuts systems already approved and in use on the network. Network Rail already had a new design of points that were being trialled on the network (RT60). This was planned and in place before the Board's recommendations were published.

  Given the Potters Bar findings, looking to improve safety at reasonable cost in ways that also improve network reliability and availability by reducing the need for inspection and maintenance (especially unplanned maintenance) is good engineering practice and indeed common sense.


  Q1878 and Q1879 dealt with HSE pushing costs up unnecessarily. We have no intention to demand unnecessary or over-costly measures from the rail or any other industry. The Discussion Document recently published seeking views on legislative changes makes it clear that we are not seeking to carry out "gold-plating" of new EC requirements, and that we want to make existing requirements less bureaucratic. If there are examples of HMRI staff asking for more than is required by industry-recognised good practice, I want to receive the details so that I can investigate them and take appropriate action to deal with the issue. I regularly invite such examples but no claims have been substantiated.

  I hope this additional information is helpful to the Committee.

Allan Sefton

Director of Rail Safety

6 February 2004

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