The fine demonstrates the seriousness with which health and safety issues are taken for passengers on public transport and should reassure members of the public that there are statutory measures in place to protect them.
Individuals are of course also free to pursue their own legal action if they have suffered harm which has been caused by a company’s breach of health and safety.
Identifying First Capital Connect’s Failures
The incident occurred on a FCC service in May 2011, when the Brighton to Bedford service lost power leaving 700 passengers stranded for 3 hours. During this time FCC failed to respond appropriately to the breakdown, failing to provide those on board with regular and accurate information, sufficient ventilation and adequate toilet facilities.
Passengers were forced to call National Rail Enquiries for information, and despite doing so regularly were told repeatedly that help would be arriving in 10 minutes, throughout the 3 hour period. These shortcomings resulted in a number of the passengers opening the train doors themselves and venturing out on to the rail tracks.
The risk of this type of passenger behaviour in these circumstances had already been examined by the rail industry and risk management guidance handed to train companies. FCC failed to act on this guidance.
Health and Safety Prosecution
FCC’s failure to act on this guidance led the Office of Rail Regulation to bring a case against it for breach of section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The FCC pleaded guilty to the charge, and have made the following changes as a result:
- Central London staff have been retrained in how to deal with stranded passengers.
- Screens have been fitted to train doors, allowing them to be opened for ventilation but preventing passengers from leaving.
- Emergency light sticks provided.
- Power can be diverted to the PA system, so that passengers can be kept informed.
- Staff have been re-briefed on how to move the train if the safety systems need to be overridden.
What does section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 mean for transport companies and their passengers?
Under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the FCC is required to give its passengers (and other non-employees) the same protection in terms of health and safety as its employees.
In failing to provide passengers with sufficient information as to the progress of the rescue operation FCC caused the passengers to leave the train and make their own way to seek help along the unlit tracks, which could have proved fatal.
Moreover the failure to provide adequate sanitary facilities and ventilation, could have caused illness due to the physical effects or a sense of panic which could have caused some passengers to desire to leave the train, which could have resulted in further injury.
Compliance with Health and Safety legislation is vital because it guarantees that workers and members of the public are safe when accessing services. It also ensures that employers have sufficient regard for to general safety issues, with sanctions for employers that fail to respond swiftly to any hazards.
For specialist advice regarding health and safety compliance or, if you have been affected by failures of health and safety contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.