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Rail sub-contractors are 'cutting corners' on safety

RAIL PASSENGERS could be at risk from engineering sub- contractors "cutting corners" to finish projects on time, it was disclosed yesterday. The fear was expressed after a survey of health and safety professionals in the rail industry.

The survey also found that more than one in four of these professionals felt there was less commitment to health and safety in the rail industry than there was five years ago.

"These findings cause us considerable concern," said Stephen Fulwell, head of technical affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, which conducted the survey.

It also discovered that almost one third of rail health and safety professionals considered their status to be lower than it was five years ago. "We have found that sharper commercial focus in the privatised rail sector, combined with an increase in the outsourcing of engineering projects, may be encouraging some sub-contractors to 'cut corners' under the pressure of delivering to tight deadlines and budgets," it said.

Mr Fulwell said that his organisation, which represents 23,000 health and safety professionals, was also concerned that certain proposed safety measures for the industry, such as the withdrawal of old Mark 1 trains, which have limited crash- survivability, were first put forward 10 years ago. "We want to make sure, given the feedback from our members and the upward trend in rail accidents, that rail companies and the franchising directorate are putting health and safety high enough up the corporate agenda," he added.

Last week, the Health and Safety Executive said that, excluding suicides and trespassers, 47 people died on the rail- ways in 1997-98 - nearly double the figure of the previous year.