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The Times, 'No expense spared' approach to health and safety is unsustainable - Timothy Walker, HSE's Director-General responds

Letter to the Editor - The Times

May 12.

Sir, I cannot agree more strongly with the view of your science correspondent (Body & Soul, April 30) that a ‘no expense spared’ approach to health and safety is unsustainable. Our approach at the HSE is that sensible health and safety is about managing risk, not eliminating it at any cost; eg, in 1994, the Health and Safety Commission advised Ministers not to legislate requiring fitment of the more sophisticated and costly ATP train protection system and gave the same advice in 2003, regarding the costly European Train Protection System (ERTMS), as the technology was not sufficiently advanced and the cost outweighed the benefits.

Your correspondent was describing a new City University mathematical model for calculating the costs and benefits of measures to reduce risk. The model, which is ‘actuarial’ and does not take into account all the costs of a real incident, suggests that the Train Protection and Warning System, introduced following recommendations of the reports by Lord Cullen and Professor Uff on the Paddington and Southall rail crashes, is poor value for money. The system intervenes to stop trains from passing signals at red and has an additional role in mitigating overspeeding on the rail network.

In fact, while I accept that it may be too early to assess the full extent of the benefits afforded by this national train protection system, there is evidence that TPWS has prevented other serious incidents that might have been caused by signals passed at danger.

Yours faithfully,

Director General, Health & Safety Executive

Updated 2013-01-23