Recognition of the role of workers in preventing suicides on the railway

21 November 2018

The recent publication by the British Transport Police in their annual report of statistics relating to suicides on the railway deserves greater scrutiny than the bare facts reveal. The BTP states: “In the last 12 months 2017/18 officers and rail staff made around 2,000 life-saving interventions on the rail network, an increase of 648 on the previous year.“

Behind this remarkable statistic lies the fact that, in recent years, very many people who work on the railways have volunteered to take up training courses run by the Samaritans and others in recognition that people using the rail network who may be in such distress as to be considering, or even preparing to, take their life or damage themselves. This training teaches ways of recognising and intervening in such circumstances in the hope of preventing people taking such actions.

These volunteer workers have clearly made an enormous impact on suicide prevention in the previous year. But there’s even more behind this statistic. First, the true figure for interventions is likely to be higher as the BTP only records those that are reported and there is likely to be under-reporting for a variety of reasons. However, if the bare BTP statistic of 2,000 cases is taken and it is presumed that just 10% of those cases were cases of people committed to taking their own life who were dissuaded from doing so then that means 200 lives were saved by volunteer workers. This is likely to be a gross under-estimate but illustrates just how significant their actions as volunteers are.

And it’s not just lives that have been saved. Every attempt to use the railway to take a life affect the train driver immediately involved, those drivers not immediately involved who witness the incident, the police and emergency services who attend the situation, rail workers on stations and the permanent way who witness or have to deal with such an incident, and members of the public who witness the event. Not to forget the disruption to rail services and the effect on the individual’s own family and friends.

Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, said: “Every train driver who experiences a suicide whilst driving a train will be affected for life. Some have to give up their career. ASLEF is proud that our members have taken up the training available, which was roundly supported by this union, and made their contribution towards this significant statistic of suicide prevention on the railways. It is a shame that negative stories about trade unions make the headlines but positive ones such as this do not. Everyone who works on the railways who has contributed towards this life-saving statistic deserves recognition as does the fact that a great number of them will be trade union members.”


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