Tuesday 17 December 2019 9:41 am

Exclusive: Crossrail safety issues spiral in 2019 with record rate of near-misses

High risk incidents in the construction of Crossrail doubled this year, in a trend that an engineering company contracted by Transport for London (TfL) has described as “worrying”.

Crossrail records the number of incidents that could, in different circumstances, have caused death or serious injury. This year, Crossrail workers have been involved in 50 of these incidents, known as high potential near misses.

The rate of near-misses rose to a record high of 0.37 per 100,000 hours worked in July and August, almost double the 0.19 rate in July 2018, when figures were last collected that year. 

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Jacobs, the engineering company contracted by Crossrail to manage the project, described the high rate of near-misses as “a worrying trend that could have resulted in significant injury”, in reports to Crossrail. 

The rate fell slightly to 0.35 in October but this remains far higher than figures recorded in 2018.

Correspondence between the London Assembly Transport Committee and Crossrail CEO Mark Wild shows that Crossrail held a “special health and safety meeting” with contractors in December 2018 to discuss increases in high potential near-misses. 

However, the near-miss rate continued to rise throughout the year, as the railway became operational.

In March, a worker was involved in a serious near-miss, in an incident involving a train and a mobile platform.

That month, Wild reported that near-misses and injures had reached their highest level in over a year. 

The rate of near misses continued to rise to a record high in July and August, when an electrical short and other incidents put workers at risk.

In reports on health and safety, Jacobs criticised policy implementation on the project, saying in August that the roll out of a new health and safety measurement indicator was “taking too long, as each intervention can result in the removal of a potential risk”.

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Crossrail told City A.M. that the increasing number of incidents have been caused by failures in procedure, falling objects and “energised systems”, referring to active trains and machinery.

But in a report covering May and June, after two accidents and three near misses were recorded, Jacobs reported that it was “observing some signs of ‘programme fatigue’” among construction workers.

After Crossrail missed opening dates, Jacobs saw a “drop in morale” and noted that “some members of the team have been on the project now for over 10 years”.

Crossrail then launched a review into contractor fatigue in July, after a scaffolder fell and bruised his leg and the highest rate of near-misses was reached.

Crossrail injuries increased in October

There is no near-miss rate available for recent months but there has been an increase in injuries sustained by workers. 

In its most recent report, covering September and October, Jacobs said that construction workers on Crossrail have suffered 15 injuries in 2019, five of which were sustained in the past three months. 

In October, a worker broke his foot after an unsecured gas bottle fell on it, prompting a review into storage facilities. 

Crossrail has sought to address concerns by raising awareness of risks and revamping its safety strategy. 

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However, Jacobs criticised contractors responsible for construction workers, saying “we would have expected a more proactive approach from their perspective”.

Crossrail told City A.M. that individual contractors are responsible for the safety of construction workers and that health and safety is “under constant scrutiny”.

A spokesperson for Crossrail said: “The Crossrail project has a good safety record and we continue to see an improving trend in safety performance by our contractors following a decline in performance earlier this year.” 

They added: “Crossrail Ltd demands the highest standards of health and safety across the project and we continue to work closely with our principal contractors in support of making sure this is the case.”

Unite, the union that represents construction workers on Crossrail, described the high potential near-miss figures as “disturbing but not surprising”. 

Assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Union safety reps who play a crucial role in preventing accidents and improving safety have too often been harassed, victimised and dismissed.”

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In July, The Guardian reported that Crossrail paid a security company £59,000 to monitor trade unionists campaigning on behalf of blacklisted Crossrail workers who had raised safety concerns.

In 2014, one construction worker died when a section of tunnel roof collapsed on him. Contractor Bam Ferrovial Kier was fined over £1m following the death and a series of other safety breaches, after investigators found that “simple measures” could have prevented the accidents.