Tyne Wear Metro operator fined £1.5m after death of employee

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Nexus, John Bell

Tyne Wear Metro operator, Nexus has been fined £1.5m after failing to ensure the safety of its staff, tragically resulting in the death of an employee

John Bell died while working at height carrying out maintenance work on high voltage overhead cables at the company’s South Gosforth depot in July 2014.

Bell was electrocuted after contacting a wire he believed to be isolated from the power supply, but, due to the incorrect installation of equipment, it was in fact live.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found safety-critical procedures were ignored and some continued for a substantial period after John’s death.

This included failures to allow work to be carried out without the appropriate instructions for staff to prevent injury; work being undertaken without the required safety critical permits; and serious inadequacies in policy documents covering ‘live line working’, which failed to include a requirement for staff to test all electrical wires before carrying out work.

ORR found lessons were not learned over a number of years and problems persisted despite the death of John, putting people at risk for a substantial period thereafter.

The sentence was passed by His Honour Judge Spragg at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Crown Court, following ORR’s prosecution.

Nexus agreed the failures involved were a significant cause of the death.

In his remarks, His Honour Judge Spragg said the case was an avoidable tragedy of a much-loved man and that Nexus should have prevented such a state of affairs from arising and continuing.

A fundamental safety requirement

Ian Prosser CBE, HM chief inspector of Railways at ORR, said: “Nexus’ working practices were poor and continued so for a long time.

“This meant Nexus did not have the right measures in place to assess whether the Metro was being maintained safely.

“It is a fundamental safety requirement to test electrical equipment before any work takes place, but the failure to review and monitor safety critical systems meant that lessons were not learned.

“This sadly contributed to the events which caused the death of Mr Bell. Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Mr Bell and I hope this result brings them some peace.”

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