THE HEALTH & Safety Executive is to abandon its controversial railway works approval system after an internal review ruled it had created a conflict of interest with its safety inspection duties.
In its place, the HM Railways Inspectorate will adopt a system similar to that of the construction industry. While it will set standards and carry out inspections, industry duty holders such as Railtrack will ensure safety standards are met.
The approvals process will be phased out over the next five years and, as part of the new regime, HMRI will contract out inspection work to private consultants.
An HSE spokeswoman admitted the current set up was untenable: 'One organisation can't approve and enforce - it's a conflict of interest,' she said. 'We have had two cases where a scheme has been approved by one department only for inspectors from another department to come along and issue an improvement notice.'
The move was revealed in a damning internal report on the HSE's role in the rail industry published this week. In the report, the HSE admits it failed to ensure the highest possible standards of safety - including failure to enforce a safe signalling system at Ladbroke Grove. It blamed a lack of resources and internal weaknesses that meant the organisation was unsuited to the privatised railway industry (NCE 15 July 1999).
The report was particularly critical of HMRI's role in the approval of major schemes such as Paddington's signalling remodelling.
HSE director general Jenny Bacon said: 'The Executive is concerned by the length of time taken for approval of the Paddington signalling layout and the slow progress by both the duty holder (Railtrack) and the HSE in bringing issues to conclusion. The inadequate risk analysis and assessment by Railtrack of the problems at SN109...were not pursued by HSE beyond initial queries: this is regretted.
'With the benefit of hindsight, the evidence suggests that, until fairly recently, more could have been done by the HSE in relation to the railway to enforce health and safety legislation. This the Executive also regrets.'
The HSE also admitted that the boom in railway work anda shortage of inspectors had swamped its approvals division. It said that in the five years before last October's crash there had been at least three calls for a risk assessment on the Ladbroke Grove signalling layout - none of which were pursued.
www.hse.gov.uk for a copy of the report.