NOT SO long ago, contractors working near live railway lines feared - more than any other construction challenge - the tough safety regime imposed by British Rail. It appears that this onerous, but to be respected, mandate is slipping sufficiently to cause serious concern among the very company safety officers that administer it.
In a survey of 900 rail sector safety officials - working for Railtrack, contractors and numerous railway operators - almost a third think safety standards have slipped over the last five years and that the perceived importance of their own role has diminished in the eyes of their own company.
These results contrast sharply with the improving standards reported in other industries, some parts of construction included, also surveyed by the safety officials' professional body, the 23,000 strong Institution of Occupational Safety & Health.
The decline follows rail privatisation four years ago and blame is laid on the change from employing readily accountable in-house BR maintenance crews to outsourcing work through a plethora of more difficult to control main and subcontractors. IOSH now has members in over 70 rail sector companies, and tough tendering, corner cutting and tighter client budgets are all cited as the cause.
But if Railtrack wants to persuade travellers away from roads, it cannot allow safety to play second fiddle to commercial considerations. In controlling standards Railtrack must strive to be as feared as its predecessor.