Monday, 29 December 2014

Thank heavens for health and safety

Health and safety gets a bad press these days. It’s blamed for us not being able to do lots of things that we were once able to do – smoke in pubs, ride motorcycles without crash helmets, allow children to hold burning candles in church ...
Cut through the tabloid bluster and we have to agree that health and safety is a good thing. If it had been around in the 1950s in any meaningful form, my great Uncle Fred Burrows may well have lived to a ripe old age.
Fred worked on the railways in Doncaster (a railway town) and, in the 1950s, rail moved most things in the country – people, goods, livestock, all went by train.
The Flying Scotsman

It was known that my mother’s uncle had been killed in an accident on the railways and the family legend was that he had been run over by the Flying Scotsman, the famous express train that ran between London and Edinburgh.
Thanks to some research by Mike Towers, my cousin’s husband, I now have the facts – and they are not pleasant.
Fred was killed in 1956. He was indeed a railwayman and was working on the tracks when he was run over by a train. Both legs were severed and he died from shock and loss of blood. It must have been horrific.
At the inquest, the coroner asked if any measures could be taken to prevent a similar accident and British Railways said they were satisfied with the precautions taken. What were those precautions? This is a transcript of the report of the inquest printed in the Doncaster Chronicle.
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Doncaster Coroner asks about safety measures
Rail man seemed to slip – killed
After a look-out man’s warning shout, three men jumped clear, but a 56-year-old railway lengthman seemed to slip and was fatally injured when a van and coach ran over his legs at Doncaster station.
This was disclosed at the inquest when the coroner Mr W H Carlile asked witnesses if they could suggest measures to prevent a similar accident.
They all agreed the position in which they were working at the time of the accident was very awkward but were satisfied with the precautions taken.
A verdict of accidental death was returned on the lengthman Fred Burrows, South Street, Highfields, near Doncaster who, said Dr Stanley Pearson, senior casualty officer at Doncaster Infirmary, died from shock and haemorrhage following double compound fractures of both legs.
Reginald Clarence Burton relayer, Shaftesbury Avenue, Intake, Doncaster said he was acting as lookout man about five yards from the other three men who were clearing snow from a set of points. He had no idea of the train timetable and his attention was mainly directed to the south to some carriages in the station to see if there was an engine on them.
"I turned round to look in the other direction and saw a pilot train approaching about 10 yards away from me. I shouted straight away and the other three men began to jump clear but Burrows seemed to slip. He was working on the side nearest the platform and had less room to get out of the way," said Burton.
They found Burrows lying between the lines. He was conscious and trying to pull himself up to a sitting position
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So here’s what happened - the men were working on an icy track, the look-out was looking the wrong way, he didn’t have a timetable to say when trains were due and the first (and only) warning was given when the train was just 15 yards away.
British Railways said it was satisfied with the precautions taken.

Can you imagine the rage such complacency and carelessness would create today? Fred’s widow would have the compensation lawyers queuing outside her house (and quite right too).