July: the month of many multiples

We’ve already blogged about a couple of cases of multiple accidents: when our database has shown a worker had more than one accident. We’ve considered shunter Tom Oliver, who injured his ankles whilst working around York; and labourer Joseph Brown, unlucky enough to be hit by trains twice in 3 weeks (though he survived both encounters). These were 2 of the 14 individuals who had 2 accidents; but July seems unfeasibly busy for others, with 6 individuals having either first or second accident this month.

Quite why that should be, we couldn’t say. There doesn’t seem to be any easy correlation between factors that might contribute, like experience, age, time of day, length of time on duty and so on. The cases are spread across England and Scotland, and across different railway companies. Most cases do involve staff who had to work with goods stock – shunters and goods guards – and who were, by the nature of the work expected of them, exposed to great danger, making it more likely that they would suffer more than one accident. But why these multiple accidents should be concentrated in July isn’t clear.

Two of the cases occurred in the first week of July, and we’d like to explore them briefly in the rest of this week’s post.

Posed 1930s accident prevention image, showing dangers of pinch points.

A posted accident prevention image, from the 1930s.

The first involved Archibald Pickett, a goods guard with the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. In his first accident, on 13 October 1911, Pickett was shunting at Lynn Harbour when he was crushed between the engine he was hitching a lift on and a wagon left too close to the line on which they were running. The shunter who had left the wagon foul of the line and Pickett were held responsible by Inspector Amos Ford in his investigation (1911 Quarter 4, Appendix C). Fast forward 2 and ¾ years, to 1 July 1914, and Pickett reappears in another case investigated by Ford. On this occasion he was on duty at Long Sutton; having left his shunting pole in his brake van ‘he attempted to get between two of the vehicles to couple by hand’ as they were coming to rest. He placed his left hand on the buffer shank, but as the wagons came together his hand was crushed between the buffer casting and the head of the buffer. Ford found Pickett ‘along to blame’ for the incident (1914 Quarter 3, Appendix C).

The second case affected brakesman G Stephen, of the Great North of Scotland Railway. His first case also took place in October 1911, on the 25th, at Dandaleith. In the snowy weather, he didn’t spot a point rod, upon which he tripped cutting his left hand and straining the arm muscles. Inspector Charles Campbell laid the blame at the door of the dangerous point rod, which should have been – but wasn’t – covered over, if it was to comply with a set of rules introduced by the state in 1902. This was very much a company responsibility, yet clearly cases exist – and this is by no means an isolated example from our database – where the rules were not followed. Campbell recommended that the rods here and in the area be covered (1911 Quarter 4, Appendix C). Nine months later, and Stephen appeared again in the reports. On 3 July 1912 he was working at Cromdale, where, by an error of signalman Petrie, the goods train for which he was brakesman was misdirected onto the wrong line, hitting another train. Although Stephen had tried to avert the crash by applying the brake in his guard van, he couldn’t prevent it, and the force of the crash meant he fell against the iron bars that guarded the stove pipe in the van (1912 Quarter 3, Appendix C). He fractured two ribs and bruised his body, but at least survived.

These multiple accidents might not seem common – with 14 cases amongst the 3,929 people featured in our database – but given this only represents around 3% of all railway worker accidents in our period, and our period is relatively small, it starts to give us some impression of the day to day dangers of the job for many in the manual grades.

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