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Thameslink upgrade at Blackfriars had 'abysmal' safety record

London blackfriars from the thames 2015 andrew dupont 3to2

The safety record at Blackfriars station during the major £7bn Thameslink upgrade programme in London was “pretty abysmal at times”, according to a Network Rail health and safety manager. 

Network Rail senior health and safety manager Sharon Fink said health and safety on the site was often “not good enough” during the four year project led by Balfour Beatty. Work on the £600M station upgrade started in 2009 and finished in 2012. 

Fink said that safety improved over the course of the project as the client and contractor began proactively dealing with issues rather than continuing a “blame game culture” which initially blighted the project. 

“When Blackfriars was being built, the safety record was pretty abysmal at times,” Fink said at the launch of Thameslink’s Leaving a Legacy online learning portal.

She added that at the start of the project safety problems were dealt with by “introducing new processes [or saying] lets sack the health and safety manager”. 

“I actually said let’s focus more on culture, engagement, working with the supervisors, and engaging with the suppliers to try to make it a safe environment rather than landing another punch,” Fink added.

The Leaving a Legacy website sets out in depth, lessons taken from the entire project which consisted of three station upgrades as well as technology upgrades and track realignments. The Thameslink upgrade was completed £4bn above its initial £3bn cost estimate. 

London Bridge station project director James Elford said he thought there should have been more effort to try to keep the workforce “motivated and energised” at the halfway point of the project of what was a “very long programme”.

“That’s something I would have done differently, and I’d certainly say to all the other major directors out there, to consider how to keep your teams motivated, fresh and keep them ready for the next challenge that comes along.”

Network Rail senior programme and engineering manager Boris Lucic added that he thought quality overall should be improved.

“There’s still too many snags, there’s still too many re-openings, inspections that need to take place and as an industry we all need to improve in this,” said Lucic.

The website is now live and accessible to the public at www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk/learning-legacy

Former Network Rail major programme director Simon Blanchflower added: “It started out as us creating a tool for people who worked on Thameslink to carry those learnings into the next jobs.

“But then it evolved into how can we spread this around as it’s also a rich knowledge that the industry as a whole needs to access.

“We can sometimes keep things close to our chest gives us a competitive advantage going forward, but actually demonstrating that collaborative approach as an industry as a whole and having open source is equally important.”

Network Rail head of programme communications Sharon Willis added: “There is a very powerful search tool to navigate around the site so you’ll be surprised about what information it will throw up.

“Over the next few months we are going to be very actively pushing out distillations from the key learnings to try to make sure that the industry knows what is available and can get access to it.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Health and safety culture has improved a lot even in the last few years. Sharing insights like this is a big part of that; hopefully the lessons learned can be used in big infrastructure projects like HS2 going forward.

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