I agree with Bob Crow.  Not a sentence I ever saw myself writing, I have to say, but an impossible conclusion to avoid in relation to this week’s suspension of a railway worker who breached safety procedures to rescue a disabled woman who had fallen onto the track at Southend Central station minutes before a train was due.   

The unnamed worker, a security guard in his sixties, is reported to have jumped down onto the railway line with three members of the public to pull the wheelchair-bound woman back onto the platform.  None of the rescuers were injured.  It must therefore have come as something of a surprise to him that this instinctive piece of gallantry was rewarded not with a pat on the back but with a suspension for breach of railway operator C2C’s safety procedures.  Safety procures are of course there for a reason, and rules are rules.  However, when Rail Maritime & Transport (RMT) union leader Crow describes the situation as a “travesty of justice”, it is impossible to disagree.  Few do – “Madness as rail worker could lose his job”, thunders the Clacton & Frinton Gazette http://www.clactonandfrintongazette.co.uk/news/south_essex_news/10655910.Madness_as_rail_worker_could_lose_his_job_for_rescuing_disabled_passenger_from_track/.

But actually the real problem here is neither justice nor madness, but a simple case of someone not taking a moment to step back from procedure, look at the overall picture and ask what would really be the sensible thing to do.  No one was injured, the lady was saved (which no one at C2C has yet guaranteed would have been the case if procedure had been followed), and all the material existed for a little good-news story about the guard and by reflected glory, C2C.  Instead we have an alienated guard and public, some really slighting his press coverage and a massive own-goal in C2C’s dealings with the RMT.  The sad thing is that all this was so obviously going to follow from C2C’s suspension decision.  Did no one look at this as anything more than a theoretical exercise?  On the assumption that C2C now has the wit to back off immediately, apologise in an appropriately humiliated manner and offer the worker some official Mention in Despatches, no long-term harm will probably be done, but why not simply save itself the effort in the first place?    

The extent of public outrage can be entertainingly gauged from the comments on the Gazette’s website.  These include the incisive “There’s bound to be some leftie twerp behind this — it’s always some mission-statement and rule-book toting leftie…. what other sort of person would make a decision like that?”, and the sceptical “I bet the RMT are rubbing their hands at this one”.  Top prize for loss of sense of (a) relevance and (b) perspective goes to“Whoever has made this decision needs immediate sacking and if common sense ever returns to the Government and the workplace in this country, most of these mealy-mouthed politically correct cretins will be booted out and replaced by straight speaking no nonsense proper management ….Lefties need kicking out of every workplace, organisation and political establishment in this country if we are ever to return to common sense and decency”.  Thank you, don’t ring us.  That said, you do rather get the impression in some of the posts that the outrage is permanent and it is only its focus which shifts.   

Fun, but irrelevant – this is not a decision driven by ranting politics or even, as one avid writer said, by extrapolating from US consumer law to the temptation to sue for all life’s ills.   Instead it arose solely from the most unfortunate thing a line or HR manager can do – not engaging with reality before applying process.  A lesson for us all, I think.