Safety controller who nearly caused rail accident ‘unfairly dismissed’

Safety controller who nearly caused rail accident ‘unfairly dismissed’

Safety controller who nearly caused rail accident ‘unfairly dismissed’

Posted: 10/07/2023

A team leader with controller of site safety status who nearly caused a rail accident was unfairly dismissed because the delay in dealing with his case took too long and was “wholly unreasonable”.

Jennifer CafferkySolicitor in our employment team, reports on this recent case.

That was the decision of the Employment Tribunal in a case involving Network Rail Infrastructure (NRI) and Mr C Boxall.

Boxall, who worked as a lubrication team leader, was involved in a safety incident in 2018. No disciplinary action was taken but he was required to retrain as a controller of site safety (COSS).

On 22 October 2019, Boxall and his team were liaising with the signallers managing the signal boxes. It was Boxall’s responsibility to inform his team which lines were blocked. 

The tribunal heard evidence from team members that Boxall told them the downline was blocked and therefore safe to cross. A team member then went to cross the line but saw a train coming towards him, causing a health and safety risk, which the tribunal noted, could have had “very serious consequences”.

Boxall did not report the incident but called his line manager immediately to say he was unfit for the role of COSS because he had some “personal issues” as he was caring for his terminally ill sister.

NRI began an investigation. Boxall was removed as COSS pending the outcome but remained a team leader. 

The investigation was beset by delays. Boxall was then interviewed in February 2021 as the case progressed to a disciplinary investigation. That was 16 months after the incident.

Following further inquiries, he was dismissed for gross misconduct in July 2021.

He brought a claim of unfair dismissal and the tribunal found in his favour.

It held that while NRI had reasonable grounds to discipline Boxall, the delays in the investigation cast doubt on its decision.

Judge Martin said the delay was wholly unacceptable and made the investigation unreasonable.

He added: “This tribunal does not consider that [NRI] acted fairly in dismissing [Boxall] following an investigation which took place almost 16 months after the initial incident. It is inevitable that memories would fade over that time.” 

For more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law please contact Jennifer on 01228 516666 or click here to send her an email.