Audit critical of management systems and industrial relations

 

Weak management systems and poor industrial relations in Iarnrod Eireann are at the heart of the problems outlined in yesterday's highly critical audit report on the implementation of a safety programme at the State-owned railway company. The Government spent £80 million and CIE spent £20 million on the programme last year - a further £100 million has been committed this year.

While the British consultants International Risk Management Services (IRMS) said Iarnrod Eireann had done a great deal to reduce risk on the rail network, their audit concluded that "very few" previously reported unreasonable risks were fully resolved.

The audit said a number of risks reported within the Iarnrod Eireann programme to be "completed" were not fully "actioned" and it added that further "unreasonable" risks on the rail network were identified during the latest examination. "Unreasonable" risks were defined as aspects of the rail infrastructure, its systems or processes that either posed an immediate risk of fatality or injury or fell "far short" of best practice.

Among 11 new "unreasonable" risks identified was a "class one" rail defect requiring mandatory removal within 24 hours at Athenry, Co Kildare. The report said this was still running without any additional controls six days after discovery.

According to the report: "IRMS consider that there is a real danger of Iarnrod Eireann trying to do too much, too quickly and not consolidating upon safety improvements in a methodical and robust manner."

It added: "This issue is exacerbated by the absence of a dedicated project manager to strengthen the co-ordination and prioritisation of the safety programme."

The safety programme was initiated after a damning report published in 1998 by IRMS identified weak management systems, outdated signalling, poor tracks, an urgent need for safety training and serious shortcomings in identifying risks. In the 1998 report, IRMS said £230 million was required to bring the network to a safe condition.

In a statement yesterday, the Minister for Public Enterprise, Ms O'Rourke, said she was seriously concerned that the report had found a number of outstanding and new unreasonable risks.

Ms O'Rourke said she had arranged on Monday to meet CIE's chairman, Mr Brian Joyce, to discuss the audit yesterday morning. However, Mr Joyce resigned on Monday evening, citing "fundamentally differing views" from Ms O'Rourke over the autonomy of CIE.

Mr Joyce is understood to have informed the Department of Public Enterprise that he would not attend the planned meeting when he submitted his resignation. Mr Joyce last night told The Irish Times he rejected any suggestion that he resigned in order to avoid facing the issues raised in the audit.

Mr Joyce said the audit was a routine progress report only. He said the Minister's focus on rail safety yesterday was an attempt to avoid addressing the issues raised in his letter of resignation.

The letter cited difficulties over alleged Government interference in CIE's internal industrial relations. It also argued that the Government had failed to address crucial issues such as fare increases and CIE's subsidy.

The consultants advised that poor industrial relations in the rail company should be addressed as a priority because they were a "major stumbling block" to further safety improvement. IRMS noted that the current state of industrial relations stemmed from CIE's viability plans and long drawn out negotiations over restructuring to address the culture of low basic pay and heavy overtime work.

"There was seen to be concern that certain safety issues were being caught up in the trade union/management negotiations and used as bargaining tools," the report said.

"If actions necessary to ensure the safety of the public, passengers or staff are being inhibited in this way, then this is unacceptable and management (and those frustrating their actions) could be held responsible should an accident occur through lack of a safety measure delayed in this way."

Further concern surrounded communications systems, track repair machines and the adoption of clear policies to avoid accidents caused by alcohol or drug abuse, the report said.

On Iarnrod Eireann's management systems, the consultants said it was evident from the continuing number of unreasonable risks identified that Iarnrod Eireann had yet to embark on its own programme of site visits to identify faults and failures in the infrastructure.

IRMS added that the continued absence of a risk assessment plan meant that expenditure on safety needed and proposed may not always be spent to the greatest benefit.

The consultants said Iarnrod Eireann needed to develop a technique, or suite of techniques, to quantify the risks on its network.

"It was also noted that, with one exception, five-year plans were not available. These will be required to justify, plan, finance and prioritise the long-term work of the railway."

It continued: "The control and management of contractors and third parties is being progressed by the production of a company standard which is awaiting issue. Given the large amount of work being carried out by the railway, this issue requires urgent resolution and implementation."