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Train & railway accident claims

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Train & railway accident claims

Many track workers are now employed by contractors in the railway industry. This sector is often non-unionised and worker rights can be an issue. Many track jobs can be mechanised but much of it still requires skilled and unskilled labour.

Injuries caused by engineering and track work

The work of repairing and maintaining track is usually carried out alongside a live line and so can be very dangerous. It is the job of those organisations who own and run the infrastructure (e.g. London Underground and Network Rail) to plan works so as to minimise the risk of accident and injuries. ‘Green Zone Working’ refers to the practice of closing off a working area so that workers and trains are physically segregated. On the Underground it is done by carrying out engineering work at night when the lines are closed. But this form of working is not always possible and ‘Red Zone Working’ is necessary. Here, the trains still run but there is a system to warn workers in advance of the train and a designated safe place for them to go until the train has passed. Office of Rail Regulation initiatives have produced improvements in track work safety records in the last few years but this work is still associated with fatal accidents, such as the one involving welder Charlie Stockwell who was hit by a train during red zone work in Reading in 2007.

Duty of care arising from employer and contractor

Direct employers have additional duties which include training and providing safety equipment and other work equipment in good condition. If an employee is injured during track work there may be a claim against his direct employer and against the main contractor or the infrastructure operator, depending on the breach complained of. For example, Osbornes acted for a worker who was employed by a company who were engaged in shotcreting a railway bridge; that work involved lifting some track and Mr C carried out the job with a crowbar because the correct piece of machinery was not available. One of the iron brackets holding a track sleeper was stiff and when he used more force a piece of metal flew into his eye. He suffered a nasty scratch to the cornea which caused temporary damage to his eyesight and prevented him from working for several weeks, by which time there was not contract work available to him for a further few weeks. The claim was directed to his employers because they failed to provide the correct work equipment and to compound that error they failed to provide eye protectors. They admitted the claim and settled the case for about £7000.

Post-traumatic claims by drivers

Train drivers and especially London Underground tube drivers face a particular and gruesome occupational hazard which is sadly more common than it should be, that of suicides on the track. It is understandable if even the most stoical driver suffers a post-traumatic stress reaction after witnessing such an event first hand, especially if it happens more than once.

Of course the driver’s employer is not liable for the traumatic event, but employers owe a general duty to take reasonable steps to protect their employees from foreseeable harm during the course of their work, and so those who employ train drivers; like emergency service, need to have systems in place to refer a driver for counselling or similar care after such an event.

Written by Stuart Kightley

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