Is C&RT below minimum safety standards?

October 2017 - While many boaters complain about Canal & River Trust's alleged 'health and safety culture' it seems it may be attempting to distance itself from minimum safety standards set by British Waterways more than a decade ago, as Allan Richards has discovered.

It seems C&RT may be quietly trying to bury the minimum safety standards introduced by British Waterways back in 2006. Following its humiliating £500,000 expenditure to prevent court action following the sinking of the Patafea Percosa (Was HSE told the whole truth?), C&RT has been back peddling on the 'minimum' in minimum safety standards.

Some years ago, C&RT reminded customers that its predecessor had undertaken a customer transformation programme which resulted in its original customer service standards. It added 'Of course, nearly 10 years later and in this fast changing world, the 2006 standards were dated. What we had once considered to be excellent, or even aspirational, might now only be considered satisfactory. So we went back to the drawing board.'

Presenting its new Customer Service Standards under the title of 'Your Safety', it stated - "We take our safety responsibilities very seriously – to our customers, staff, contractors and volunteers.

"A continuing challenge is to balance the 'open access for all' aspect of the waterways with protecting visitors from harm. As you would expect we have to cater for a wide range of activities and visitors. We've assessed the risks from all of the 2,000 miles of network and we have a program of work to reduce risks to our visitors. ​

"We also have to react to incidents when they happen in an appropriate and defensible way. We do this because it is the right thing to do and we are not solely driven by legislation which sets the lowest acceptable level of safety. At all times we have in mind the minimum intervention necessary to deliver an acceptably safe environment at the same time retaining the look and character of the waterways.

"We have a defined set of ‘Minimum Safety Standards’. The safety standards have been introduced so that customers know the minimum that they can expect around our network.

"Whether it’s landings at all locks, clearance of vegetation on bends to give visibility or bollards at lock sides to assist boaters use our locks safely – we have evolved our standards over the last few years and in an effort to keep in touch with customer expectations will look to review them (with customer input) throughout 2015/16.'

Whilst the Trust did introduce new customer service standards, the suggestion that it introduced new minimum safety standards is misleading. What it did was was to adopt the minimum safety standards already put in place by BW many years earlier. Perhaps that is the reason it stated it was looking to review them in 2015/16. Despite the public promise, that review of the adopted minimum safety standards never happened.

Worse still, C&RT has recently admitted to the Navigation Advisory Group (NAG) that it is no longer meeting its own minimum standards. At the June 14 meeting of the NAG operations sub group, Tony Stammers (C&RT's Head of Health and Safety) provided a list of non-compliances with minimum standards where C&RT had given themselves a dispensation.

In doing so he attempted to rebrand what both BW and C&RT had previously called 'minimum safety standards' as 'navigation standards'. This admission should be compared with with 2010 where a BW internal audit found a high level of compliance (and no suggestion of dispensations needed to be made).

It is not known if the NAG picked up picked up on the fact that these were 'minimum' rather than 'aspirational' standards. What can be said is that NAG stated that they would like to see a list of all non compliances (not just the ones where C&RT had awarded itself a dispensation for not meeting its own standards).

At the moment, it would appear that this second list has not been given to NAG. Certainly, neither list has been made available to the public, despite a request, made under the Freedom of Information Act, for both lists to be put in the public domain. So far this request has simply been ignored.

Photos: (1st) Old Customer Service Standards, (2nd) New Customer Service Standards, (3rd) "We have a defined set of minimum standards" claims C&RT - in fact the standards were set by British Waterways.

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