The final July multiples

This month we’ve already highlighted a a number of cases in which workers had 2 accidents (see here and here). Before the month is out, we have 2 more individuals from our database to add to this tally.

The first person involved was Frederick Charles Cuff. A pilot guard for the Barry Railway company, he had his first accident on 30 December 1913 at Barry in South Wales. Applying the brake to one of a rake of wagons being shunted, he caught his foot on a point-box, falling against the point lever and injuring his left knee.  Inspector JJ Hornby pointed out in his brief report that the point-box was fixed ‘in the path it was necessary for Cuff to take’ but as there was ‘ample space to move the point-box and point-lever further from the rail … for future safety the Company should do this’ (1913 Quarter 4, Appendix C).

Barry Docks, 1929.
Courtesy Britain from Above, WPW029397.

Barry Docks, c.1900
Courtesy National Library of Scotland Maps

Under 7 months later and Cuff appears in the reports again. On 25 July 1914 at Barry, Cuff was working with a train of pit props from No 2 Dock to Cadoxton. The props in the final of the 42 wagons rose to the same height as the wagon sides, ‘and Cuff rode on the top of these props with his legs hanging over the end of the wagon.’ After having been stopped by a signal, when the train started to move again ‘the couplings of the wagons were tightened, causing a jerk, and Cuff fell from the wagon to the ground.’ In a rather understated comment, Inspector Hornby concluded that ‘Cuff does not appear to have been riding in the most secure position’. He did, however, address the reason why Cuff was on the wagon and not in a guard’s van: there was no guard’s van provided. That said, this was clearly an accepted practice at this location, as there were formal instructions in place to cover this eventuality, quoted in the report: staff were enjoined “with a view of avoiding accidents” to ensure that a wagon “suitable for riding in” was marshalled to the end of the train. Hornby therefore found that ‘as there was no reason why Cuff should not have attached an empty wagon at the rear of the train to ride in, I think the accident must be attributed to his failure to carry out his instructions’ (1914 Quarter 3, Appendix C). Once again, we might question why the company expected their staffs to work in these potentially dangerous situations, or to find awkward work-arounds as a solution, particularly if there was time pressure which made an additional shunt seem like time that couldn’t be used.

The final case was that of WHB Robinson. He had his first accident, at Gateshead on the North Eastern Railway, on 31 July 1911. In the course of his work as a shunter, he was riding on the step of an engine; stepping off at a set of points, as the engine reached the points the lever was thrown over, hitting Robinson on the thigh. ‘Misadventure’ was Inspector Campbell’s conclusion (1911 Quarter 3, Appendix C).

Some of the complexity of railway provision around Gateshead Park Lane, c.1913

The second accident had more serious consequences for Robinson. Occurring a little under 2 years later, on 11 May 1913, as he was about to uncouple a wagon in the Park Lane sidings ‘his right foot came in contact with his left foot and tripped him.’ He fell and his ankle was caught between the chair holding the rail to the sleeper and the axlebox of a wagon, fracturing the leg above the ankle; it was subsequently amputated. Inspector Campbell’s verdict was once again ‘misadventure’ (1913 Quarter 2, Appendix C).

Why did July feature so many workers having one of their 2 accidents? Difficult to say – it may well be an artefact of the accidents which were investigated, something our project extension will shed some light on, as it will bring in the accident reports for the interwar years, allowing us to gain a longer term picture and see if there are any – many – other cases of multiple accidents. It might also be to do with the longer daylight hours, potentially meaning more work was being undertaken and therefore staff were being exposed to more danger than at other times of the year. Whatever the reasons underlying the accidents, these multiple cases are an important reminder of the everyday dangers to which workers were exposed. What might therefore be more surprising is that there are only 14 individuals in our database of nearly 4,000 people who had 2 accidents.

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