DISCUSSION – Safety in Transport.
At the Durrington Community Centre, 10th January, 1990.
1. Safety in the Air, introduced by P.T. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor outlined the history of accident prevention culminating in the formation of the Civil Aviation Authority in 1971. He observed that safety is seldom mentioned in present day airline advertising, the recent accidents of a major nature in the U.K. were the first for about eight years. C.A.A. responsibilities include certification of pilots and maintenance staff, air worthiness of aircraft, and availability of emergency services; in addition there is an Accident Investigation Branch. The majority of C.A.A. staff is, however, employed in the National Air Traffic Service which controls all flying over the U.K. and N.E. Atlantic, backed by extensive VHF and UHF radio and radar networks. The latter includes a guard-watch: an aircraft in difficulty can be pinpointed, and relevant information evaluated, and emergency services alerted.
Anonymous reporting (e.g. of pilot falling asleep) has helped the development of safety systems, as has “near miss” reporting (approach within 1 mile horizontally, 1000 ft. vertically.)
Contributions to the discussion included the suggestion that poor instrument layout was a major cause of the recent Ml disaster. The possibility of eliminating pilot error by eliminating the pilot, i.e. using fully automated aircraft was raised (but surely this would merely shift ultimate responsibility from the person in uniform to the one in overalls.) Mr. Taylor pointed out that safe take-off is possible now at major airports with visibility down to 75 yards while 50% of landings at Heathrow are made without pilot intervention. Large aircraft are almost always “on auto” in normal flight, though it was mentioned that in the early days (of “George”) this could be very disconcerting to passengers. One member queried the danger of loss of trim due to computer/system instability. The possibility of an elaborate safety organisation becoming an end in itself was highlighted. An airworthiness certificate is issued based on prototype tests. Thereafter, ensuring that all subsequent aircraft conform with the approved design and maintenance procedures, it is the responsibility of manufacturer and operator. Finally Mr. Taylor reminded us that, with about 80% of all accidents still attributed to “human error”, the continuing need for study of human engineering must have top priority.
2. Safety on the Railways, introduced by F.J.W. Brown.
The industry covers, not only B.R., but all others, including light railways, the Underground, and preserved steam systems. Stations, sidings and workshops are also involved in accident statistics. Accident prevention had no legal back-up before the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, and Inspectors’ recommendations were frequently “shelved”, usually for financial reason
In 1988 there were 225 significant train accidents in a total of 1330, representing 0.72 accidents per million train-miles. Most accidents, said Mr. Brown were foreseeable, and all work should be planned with accidents in mind. There must be study in depth for the cause of any human error which has resulted in an accident. Mr. Brown quoted examples of “mental pre-occupation”, “forgetfulness”, “lack of training”, “failure to understand the rules” and “fatigue and stress.”
He went on to describe the four-aspect colour light signal system, first introduced on the Southern Railway in 1925, and mentioned the cab warning system. Radio communication is attractive in the safety field, but represents a multi-million pound investment.
The discussion picked up many points touched on in the introduction, including some early experiences e.g. the “safety device” consisting of an iron bar to short circuit the electrical supply to prevent another train approaching one broken down. The Westinghouse and vacuum brake systems came in for comment. Mr. Brown confirmed that the Railway Inspectorate now has similar powers to those held by the Factory Inspectors, but ultimately safety on the railways depends on the skills and vigilence of the staff.