Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why wasn't Eurostar prosecuted under health and safety legislation?

We are told that we live in a society dominated by concern for health and safety. Well, just consider these extracts from the coverage in today's Guardian of the report by Christopher Garnett and Claude Gressier on the break down of five trains in the Channel tunnel just before Christmas:

On the Disneyland train, the air conditioning, ventilation and lights failed, leaving passengers in hot, dark conditions.

"We are concerned that in those conditions nobody walked through the train to see how people were and explain what was happening," Garnett said.


The report described the dreadful conditions on the Shuttle, with overflowing toilets, and pregnant women and small children forced to sit on "greasy floors or to lean against the sides of the carriage".

At one point passengers had to designate one carriage as "an open toilet area".

Emma Powney, who was travelling from Paris to Ashford with young children, wrote of crying and vomiting children being stripped to their nappies, passengers breaking open the door to escape the heat, and children being forced to bed down on blankets bought from Disneyland in filthy, wet conditions.
Eurostar has promised to put things right, but if the facts are as presented in the Guardian it is hard to see how the company or its directors have escaped prosecution.

Is it that health and safety is not the force we are told, or is there one law for large companies and another for the rest of us?


Gareth Aubrey said...

Well don't forget there are at least two laws for them; I haven't been able to confirm yet whether legal jurisdiction changes at the halfway point of the tunnel or at the ends (and if so, which country's law applies in which direction of travel...)

dreamingspire said...

There is a much larger problem with poor customer support during disruption on public transport, with both elf'n'safety implications and more general concerns for public safety. The public safety concern stretches to the problems with large crowds impinging on the highway (e.g. leaving large events such as football matches). Specifically, at about the end of the last Millenium the police formally dropped a number of duties, and general safety on the roads was one of them. So the local authority is responsible for the safe design of the highway and for control of crowds where the police do not expect any criminal behaviour - some do it worse than others, and there doesn't seem to be any regulatory regime for them. The police will close a section of highway after an accident, but only until they can determine whether there is criminal responsibility - so a pedestrian crossing whose layout deceives pedestrians to cross when they should not is closed temporarily by the police when someone is seriously injured or killed, and handed back to the LA after 24 hours - they can then continue to fumble for years during which more "accidents" happen, as was the case with one crossing that I know well - they should apply occupational psychology to the highway environment. Turning to rail, a stranded train does not trigger attendance by any of the emergency services until there is evidence of serious risk to life and limb. And a train does not even carry equipment to provide safe exit if it has to be evacuated away from a platform - I once had to jump down onto the ballast from a stranded Eurostar, and then be heaved up into another Eurostar on the adjacent line. The Chunnel report shows that off duty emergency services personnel helped, and that later there was small scale attendance by medical staff - but that is not good enough. The report has failed to address the big problem, but simply tinkers with engineering and customer information details.
(A very apt Word Verification for this comment: upclunky.)