FOLLOWING narrowboatworld's shock revelation that British Waterways directors may face criminal charges relating to the death of a young cyclist Allan Richards explores the cost of death or serious injury on our waterways.
In 2011, 60 deaths were reported on British Waterways of which seven were intentional (suicides and crime), 25 were unknown causes and 28 were accidental death. As confirmed by reports in narrowboatworld, alcohol plays a part in many of the deaths.
However, a small proportion of theses deaths lead to considerable expense to the public when British Waterways is held to blame or decides to take some action following a death.
The death of a boater due to a falling tree resulted in a £3m spend across the network last winter dealing with some 15,000 'high risk' trees. The spend followed a Coroners' 'rule 43' report which stated 'it was clear that there had been failings in the tree management system operated by British Waterways'.
Sadly, British Waterways attempted to have the Coroners' 'rule 43' report (to prevent further deaths) produced after the inquest withdrawn. Sadder still, it omitted to mention in an annual Health & Safety report. produced for the Board and transition trustees, that a 'rule 43' report had been produced and that they had tried to suppress it.
Freedom of Information
In a response (dated 25/1/2012) to a request under the Freedom of Information, British Waterways claimed that it did not hold a copy of any report made by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident with a recommendation that the HSE be contacted directly 'to ascertain whether a report exists and, if it does, whether they would send you a copy'.
Yet a further Freedom of Information request found that a HSE report was specifically mentioned at the inquest!
No less than four British Waterways staff including Operations Director, Vince Moran and head of Health & Safety Tony Stammers gave evidence at the inquest. One is left wondering what the HSE report contained that British Waterways should have amnesia regarding its very existence!
Swing bridge tragedy
In 2008, a tragic incident occurred on a swing bridge on the Ashton Canal where a young girl sitting on the bridge had both legs crushed below the knees requiring amputation, A legal case was concluded in late 2011 which resulted in British Waterways accepting 20% liability. In financial terms the cost to the public was £500,000.
Unfortunately, British Waterways' annual Health & Safety report omits to say what the failure was on its part that led to this payout.
Incidents involving boaters.
In addition to the swing bridge payout, British Waterways' annual Health & Safety report documents provision of £870,000 being made in respect of claims in two separate incidents involving boaters.
One involved the trapping of a hire boat customer beneath a lift bridge on the Oxford Canal which resulted in paralysing injuries. British Waterways has made a provision of £500,000 in respect of this claim.
The other incident, for which a provision of £370,000 has been made, involves a boater injured by a plank which fell from a lock gate.
Stourport Basin incident
The Stourport Basin incident, which has been well documented in narrowboatworld, has unknown costs associated with it. As previously reported, criminal action may be taken against British Waterways. If that action is successful, the possibility exists that it may be followed by civil action.
British Waterways' annual Health & Safety report omits to say that criminal action may be taken, simply stating that an HSE investigation is in progress.
On top of costs arising from any criminal or civil action has to be added the cost of temporary scaffolding and the installation of handrails at 26 (the actual number given by British Waterways varies!) 'lock crossings'. Furthermore, additional costs will arise because the installation of handrails at locks such as Falling Sands has been found to cause unforeseen safety problems.
There is little doubt that British Waterways' Health & Safety failures are costing the public millions. However, it is the veil of secrecy that surrounds its failures that causes greater concern.
Perhaps British Waterways' remuneration committee have given consideration to directors poor Health & Safety performance and decided that bonus should not be paid for 2011/12.
To do otherwise would be criminal!