The head of Network Rail: A lack of women working on railways leads to 'macho' culture where hundreds are injured each year

Mark Carne told leading rail industry figures that about 600 railway workers a year were hurt badly enough to need the next day off

Ian Johnston
Thursday 26 February 2015 21:17 GMT

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A lack of women working on the railways has led to a “macho” culture that is partly to blame for hundreds of employees being injured every year, the head of Network Rail has said in a speech.

Mark Carne, who has been in the job for a year, told leading rail industry figures at the Institute of Engineers in London that about 600 railway workers a year were hurt badly enough to need the next day off – about 10 times the rate in comparable industries.

He spoke about a young man whose leg had to be amputated after it was crushed by a piece of machinery. “The equipment had failed previously, but nobody had reported it,” he said. “And we have had people die in road accidents in the last year because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt – and yet their colleagues sitting next to them didn’t intervene.

“These are appalling tragedies that have, at their root, a culture that we must change.”

Mr Carne, who previously worked in the oil industry, said part of the problem was the emphasis on keeping trains running on time, saying many workers felt that “punctuality is what really matters”. But he also highlighted the shortage of women in Network Rail.

“When women started becoming a much more visible presence on the oil and gas platforms in the North Sea 20 years ago, the difference they brought was profound. The extreme macho, and frankly unsafe, culture that was a hallmark of the industry in the 1970s and 1980s changed dramatically,” he said.

“Today, women make up about only 14 per cent of the Network Rail workforce. It is hardly surprising that under such circumstances we still have what many describe as a macho culture.”

Three people were killed in 2013-14 while working on the railways in Britain, according to Network Rail.

A spokesman for the RMT transport union said it was encouraging “in some sort of twisted way” that Mr Carne had admitted there was a problem with the level of injuries.

He said the union also wanted more women on the railways but that the real threat to safety was staff cuts and the “casualisation” of labour, with greater use of contractors and zero-hours contracts.

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