According to technical experts, occupational ill health costs the industry around £109m-163m per year, equivalent to 50% of the indirect costs of absences and ill health (estimated at £218m-327m per year). In particular, industry stakeholders have raised concerns about the fact that some health risks in common rail work environments are not properly assessed, but can still have a significant impact on employees’ health. Issues include: exposure to asbestos; inhalation of or contact with battery acids, diesel engine exhaust emissions, hydraulic fluid and oils, cleaning chemicals, ammonia, silica dust, smoke and carbon monoxide; musculoskeletal disorders; and fatigue and sleep disorders related to shift work. Health risk assessment of common work environments is currently undertaken by health and safety managers in Network Rail, passenger and freight operating companies, infrastructure construction and maintenance companies, and other supplier companies. However, they do not always have the scientific or technical knowledge to address certain aspects of work environments, or properly assess the related risks. In addition, companies manage these health risks individually, and implement the guidance as they see fit. This results in two adverse consequences for the industry. First, there is a large variance in the way these health risks are identified, measured, and managed. Second, the industry faces duplication costs from lack of coordination at industry level. The aim of this research project was to promote occupational health and wellbeing by improving work environments in the rail industry. In doing so, it has undertaken a number of expert risk assessments of the health hazards created at common rail environments. It has also recommended ways of controlling these risks, and identifying any gaps in management competence worthy of further work.
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