On 11 May 2018, Network Rail was found guilty of an offence under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 for failure to have in place a suitable and sufficient assessment of the health and safety risks to employees. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on a second charge of failing to discharge the duty imposed by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees.
In April 2015, a signaller suffered life-changing injuries when he was working at the rail track at East Farleigh, Kent. Maidstone Crown Court heard the signaller was trying to close the level crossing gate when it was hit by a car. The force of the car impact caused the gate to bounce back, knocking the signaller to the ground which resulted in a broken neck.
Colleagues of the signaller told the court there had often been incidents of cars swerving across the rail tracks as signallers tried to close the gates. The injured man had reported a near miss with a different vehicle to the British Transport Police on the same day he was hit.
An investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (“ORR”) which followed the incident, found Network Rail’s risk assessment carried out in February, which consisted of a 30 minute census of traffic use and a conversation with a signaller, incorrectly assessed the risk of deliberate misuse of the crossing as being ‘significantly lower than average’ and did not constitute a suitable or sufficient risk assessment.
The ORR determined the risk of a driver failing to see the gates being closed was foreseeable and despite the risk, Network Rail had done little or nothing to protect its employees.
Sentencing of Network Rail is due to take place at a later date.
Network Rail has faced prosecutions previously for breaches of health and safety law where they have failed to check, adequately maintain and carry out sufficient risk assessments of level crossings. These historic failures by the company have also resulted in serious injury or death.
In September 2016, Network Rail were fined £4 million when an individual was killed at a level crossing in Needham Market, Suffolk. In 2006 and 2008, warning signals for the crossing were recommended, but not implemented. In the weeks’ prior to the death, the crossing was deemed to be a high-level risk. Only a five second warning of oncoming trains was provided to pedestrians and visibility at the crossing was poor, leading to a greater risk of being struck.
Network Rail were also fined in June 2013 for £500,000 for breaches of health and safety law. The incident, which occurred in 2010, led to a 10 year old boy sustaining serious head injuries when the vehicle he was a passenger in was hit by a train on an unmanned level crossing in Suffolk.
Occupied vehicles have been struck previously at stations operated by Network Rail. In 2010, Jane Harding died when a car she was in was hit by a train. Network Rail were subsequently fined £450,000. Our Law Now on that incident can be found here.
A double fatality in 2005 led to Network Rail being fined £1 million when they submitted a guilty plea to charges brought by the ORR relating to breaches of health and safety law. Two teenage girls were killed in Essex while they made their way across level crossing at a rail track in Essex. The investigation was re-opened when the ORR obtained further documentation, including a risk assessment describing the crossing as a risk. Our Law Now on that incident can be found here.
The above cases show that all employers should be aware of any risks posed by their operations to the public – even when the public are not following instructions.