A death too many for Transnet

Transnet’s track record for public and employee fatalities is once again under the spotlight. The most recent was a train driver who was electrocuted in Ermelo on April 25 this year.

Transnet has confirmed that Malusi Gigaba, the minister of public enterprises, attended a memorial service for the employee. “The government, as a shareholder, and [the] Transnet management team take every death of an employee personally as every employee is an integral part of the Transnet Freight Rail family and broader South African society,” said Sandile Simelane, Transnet spokesperson.

According to Transnet’s 2010 annual report eight employees died last year compared to 13 the previous year, representing a 38.5% decrease. Public fatalities were reduced by 12.2% but a total of 173 lives (excluding suicides and crime-related deaths) were still lost. “Over the past five years we have lost more than 100 public lives at level crossings alone,” Simelane said.

The report said that last year’s employee deaths showed an emerging trend of a shift from operational-related incidents to motor vehicle incidents. “There were five motor vehicle related incidents, two electrocutions and one falling from a height incident. Of the five motor vehicle incidents, four occurred outside Transnet’s operational areas.”

The report noted that some of the fatalities arose from non-adherence to standard operating procedures, which was a major contributor to the root causes of these incidents.

“It is important that we point out that every death is one death too many,” Simelane said. “Safety is a cornerstone of Transnet Freight Rail strategy and it has a safety culture in place that encourages a safety mindset amongst all employees.”

One of Transnet’s priorities was to educate the public. “Trains kill. Trains are fast and people mustn’t take chances,” Simelane said. He said there was a safety plan in place that detailed specific actions and targets in dealing with safety.

The plan outlined the need to conduct public campaigns to educate roads users and the general public about the dangers of trains. It also included a staff educational campaign that focused on rules and procedures to avoid accidents in the workplace.

“We have started rolling out on-board computers, which will help in the early detection of faults in trains and the network, and this will aid in minimising the risk of derailments,” Simelane said. “Our train drivers are also compelled to undergo compulsory refresher driving courses to enhance their skills — Train driver simulators have also been procured to enhance the skills of train drivers with the aim of reducing incident rates.

“Capital projects have been initiated to ensure that our network infrastructure meets the required standards,” Simelane said.

“We have a fully developed safety management system (SMS) which is currently being entrenched at operational levels. The SMS ensures the implementation and cascade of safety standards, compliance to those standards and effective controls.

“The public can play a role by supporting our initiatives, by taking the necessary precautions when dealing with trains, when crossing our networks and by reporting any vandalism of our network,” said Simelane.

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Lisa Steyn
Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a masters degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen.

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