Electricity is one of the biggest potential dangers we face when working on the tracks.
It is above us via overhead lines (rail and national grid), on the ground in some areas via the 3rd rail conductor rail power supply, and even below us via buried cables.
Every year, on average, there are 1.2 incidents on AC electrified lines alone which result in fatalities or life-changing injuries. In addition, over 400 incidents have been recorded since 2013 involving power isolations on the railway, simply because people weren’t following the correct process.
Since 2010, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has issued Network Rail with seven Improvement Notices directly related to electrical safety, the last of which – issued in November 2013 – led to a prosecution.
In response, an electrical safety delivery programme, known as ESD, was formally launched by Network Rail in 2015 with funding from the ORR. Picking up the baton from the National Electrical Safety Improvement Programme (NESIP), ESD aims to deliver safer, faster isolations on both overhead line (AC) and 3rd rail (DC) electrified networks. As an organisation, this should enable increased legislative compliance with the Electricity at Work Regulations (EaWR) and prevent further fatalities, prosecutions and regulatory action.
Further training across our workforce (both Network Rail and partner organisations), better business processes and enhancements to the infrastructure should all help to drive improvements.
Electrical safety has a number of Life-saving Rules specifically designed to save lives and in 2007 Network Rail produced a short film on electrical safety called ‘Touch and Go’. Although a few years old the messages in the film still ring true, and underline the priority for greater safety when working around electricity.
A guidance document has also been made available to provide further information on the application of the Electrical Lifesaving Rules.