Case study: derailment caused by ‘understaffing and low morale’

The derailment of an engineering train took place on the London Underground between Earl’s Court and Gloucester Road stations on 12 May 2010.  According to the Rail Accident Investigation Report that was released recently, the train derailed because the track was in such a poor state that it shifted and collapsed under the weight of the train.  “The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said understaffing and low morale led to the track not being maintained as it should have been.” BBC News

This case study highlights the continued importance of staffing arrangements as a safety consideration for industry.  The EI has a dedicated webpage listing pertinent resources to aid companies manage staffing, including its publication EI Safe staffing arrangementsuser guide for CRR348/2001 methodology: Practical application of Entec/HSE process operations staffing assessment methodology and its extension to automated plant and/or equipmentThe EI has also produced a briefing note on organisational change (with a new edition soon to be published) to help companies manage change, such as changes to staffing levels. 

The suggestion in the report that ‘low morale’ also played a part in the incident is harder to fully understand without knowing what caused morale to be low in the first place, and what bearing that had on the incident.  Inadequate staffing levels may lead to low morale through over-working of staff and fatigue, which in turn can lead to stress.  Other causes can also include poor leadership, worksite conditions, as well as personal stress factors; all of these issues should be managed.  The EI’s Briefing notes cover many of these, and there are more resources available from the EI human factors website which cover particular topics in detail. 

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