Suicide prevention on the railway network

08 Jan 2021

The suicide rate for 2019 was the highest since 2000.  For England and Wales there was, sadly, 5691 suicides registered in 2019-2020 with approximately 280 of those involving the railway network.  Not only are such events stressful for the family and friends of the individual concerned but it can also have a devastating impact on rail employees e.g. train drivers and first response personnel. 

Witnessing the aftermath of such a traumatic event can cause the employee to suffer a longstanding, psychiatric injury. In the most serious of cases the employee may have a prolonged period off work or even be unable to return to their pre – accident role.  There may also be an adverse impact on the morale of rail employees generally.

When an employee witnesses a suicide it is imperative they are referred to occupational health without delay.  The sooner an employee receives treatment, such as counselling, the greater the chances are that employee will make a full or significant recovery and return to work.

It is encouraging to see a number of stakeholders in the rail industry taking proactive steps to prevent suicides on the network and to train its employees in suicide prevention.   The Global Railway Review reported “a total of 2,233 lifesaving suicide interventions” were made on the railways in 2019 / 2020.  This meant six people were saved for everyone that took their life.

Network Rail is leading the way as it works closely with other organisations such the Samaritans, British Transport Police and other suicide prevention experts taking pro-active steps to reduce the number of suicides on the network. 

Such initiatives include;

  • Training railway employees to identify and support people who may be considering suicide;
  • Installing fencing to prevent access to tracks in high risk locations;
  • Adopting a national strategy to issue guidance to other stakeholders who may be able to benefit from Network Rail’s experience;
  • Commissioning bespoke research and suicide prevention campaigns.

In East London a roving mental health nurse has been appointed by Network Rail and East London NHS Foundation Trust.  The nurse will promote access to mental health services and offer immediate mental health support to rail users.  BLM is of the view similar measures ought to be considered when rail companies are reviewing its risk management strategies.   

We are encouraged to note the UK Rail Minister, Chris Heaton – Harris has pledged his support to the ongoing campaign to reduce the number of suicides on the railway which included a special virtual event taking place on 25 November 2020.  BLM will monitor any measures that may be implemented following this event and will issue further blogs on this important topic.

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Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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