After many years of concern, the 1902 Prevention of Accidents Rules introduced several measures to improve railway worker safety. One was the requirement to cover or protect trip hazards like point rodding and signal wires. Whilst progress was made, it took time, as today’s case, which took place nearly a decade later, demonstrates.
It took place on the London and South Western Railway at Gosport station, just over the water from our project partner at the University of Portsmouth, on 2 November 1911. 29-year old Edward Percy Prior was a ‘porter-signalman’: a ‘jack of all trades’, who presumably undertook the duties of both porter (which could be quite general anyway) and signalman as the station’s traffic didn’t warrant employing 2 members of staff. Some sense of that – and the cause of Prior’s accident – appears in this image, dating from around 1900.
Inspector Amos Ford investigated the case, finding that whilst Prior was assisting with shunting he was ‘hurrying alongside some carriages’ and stumbled over a signal wire. The wire was exposed across the route he had take; he fell, severely spraining his back. Ford put the accident down to the exposed wire – though didn’t make reference to the Prevention of Accidents rule. Several other cases did make reference to the rules where exposed point rodding was involved, presumably as a means of adding weight to the recommendations made.
Instead, Ford simply added the recommendation – unenforceable – that ‘for future safety the signal wire in question, with two others, and several point rods badly exposed close by, should be lowered and properly protected’ (1911 Quarter 4, Appendix C). Whether or not the change was made at this location is unknown – but this certainly wasn’t the last case of this type, either – plenty more examples are found littering our database. The companies were given time to make this sort of change, but in the run up to the First World War the trades unions were increasingly vocal about the slow pace of action. However, the presence of advice about this issue in an accident prevention booklet from the 1960s suggests that it was not something which disappeared quickly. The nature of the railway – as a largely mechanical system for much of the 20th century – meant that rods and wires to move points and signals were a necessity.