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A new “safety culture” programme has been rolled out at a Network Rail team where racial tensions were found to have contributed to a site collision, Construction News can reveal.
As reported on CN last year, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) found a “culture of racial prejudice among members of staff at various levels of the workforce towards contractors supplied by labour agencies” as it looked into an accident where a mobile elevating work platform collided with a stationary machine on which two people were installing overhead line equipment.
Both men suffered minor injuries in the January 2020 incident in Rochford, near Southend in Essex. According to an RAIB report, there was ineffective supervision and a “catalogue of errors and omissions” at the site, while safety was undermined by poor working relationships between machine operators and controllers, including racial tensions and language barriers.
Chief inspector of rail accidents Simon French told CN that his team discovered “a shocking breakdown” of relationships.
“If the guys in one of the platforms hadn’t been wearing harnesses, they would almost certainly had been thrown to their deaths,” he added.
The RAIB report went on: “There were reportedly racial and cultural tensions between the predominantly white [Network Rail] full-time employees, and predominantly black agency-supplied machine controllers.”
CN understands that Network Rail has this month launched a “bespoke safety culture programme” among its Overhead Condition Renewals unit, which carried out the work in Rochford.
A spokesperson said the company commissioned an independent review into the workplace culture that led to the incident.
It has since carried out interviews with 50 members of the unit to understand “performance, leadership, behaviours, attitudes, culture and systems that can affect safety performance” to create the new programme.
The initiative includes new and increased training of frontline teams and supervisors to help them understand how attitudes and behaviours can impact safety, as well as “to address underlying challenges in bringing teams together” and share best practice and concerns.
The government-owned company also introduced a mandatory training module for all its staff in May called Stand Up for Race Equality. This aims to “create a more inclusive and safer culture where each of us feel empowered to challenge poor behaviour when we see it”, the spokesperson added.
Network Rail director of diversity and inclusion Loraine Martins said: “We’re educating our employees about the links between safety and inclusive work environments. This is demonstrated through our innovative and ground-breaking Stand Up for Race Equality briefings, which are mandatory for every one of our 43,000 employees, and which are available to our supply chain, trade unions and stakeholders.
“We have a zero-tolerance approach to racism and any other form of discrimination, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to ensure our worksites are safer and more inclusive.”
By: Ian Weinfass