Caution! Railway safety since 1913

Safety after 1913

By 1913 worker deaths and injuries had increased to over 30,000 in a single year. Growing pressure from trades unions and the threat of new laws forced the railway companies to act. The Great Western Railway's management introduced the Safety Movement in August 1913. It was a radical departure, using photographs and a conversational tone to grab the reader's attention and show them what to do. This accessible style soon spread throughout the railway industry, and has been used up to the present day. Safety education tried to change behaviour – but at times it also implied that the worker was to blame.

Alongside safety education, the older formal methods of rules and signs continued. Some workers used personal protective equipment, and Government inspectors investigated a few worker deaths and injuries, and recommended changes. Despite all of this, many workers were killed or disabled for life, with a huge impact on their families.

Highly illustrated booklets were used to show workers in every part of the railway industry what the management saw as the dangers of their jobs. Read these digitised booklets from our archive:

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8. Great Western Railway Magazine safety article, March 1914

The key to the new style was a conversational tone and the use of photographs, showing employees how to work safely and what not to do. In this case, the article warned about the risk of crushed feet.

Wherever you are, and whatever you're doing, keep your mind open to "IS IT SAFE". You'll dodge no end of trouble if you'll do this.

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9. London & North Eastern Railway Magazine safety article, June 1934

Crossing the railway line produced many casualties, so safety hints appeared from time to time in the company magazines. Here the LNER warned of the dangers of slipping and getting feet trapped.

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10. London, Midland & Scottish Railway Magazine, January 1936

Captioned 'modern methods', this photograph showed a worker using a mask to protect his eyesight from welder's arc. However, for many jobs no personal protective equipment was available.

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11. Great Western Railway 'pocket token', 1922

This ingenious item was introduced by the GWR in 1916. It was a metal token bearing safety messages, kept in the pocket among other coins. The intention was that when it was taken out it would remind people to act safely.

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12. London, Midland & Scottish Railway poster for track workers, c.1940

The necessity to use goggles was not confined to the workshops – anyone chipping metal, including track maintenance workers, was targeted.

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13. British Railways posed photograph, 1953

According to this photograph, taken at York carriage works in the 1950s, women distracted men and caused injuries – the motor trolley drivers are about to hit the men crossing in front of them. Where safety photographs were used they were, of course, posed.

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14. High-visibility vest, British Rail, c.1967

One form of personal protective equipment introduced in the 1960s was high-visibility clothing, making track workers more obvious to engine crews. However, permanent way staff were still frequently hit (and killed) by trains.

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15. British Rail poster, 1967

Though surprising by today's standards, one means of encouraging reluctant men to wear the new high-visibility mini-vests was to sell them by using sex.

Be eye catching in your mini-vest!

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16. British Rail poster, 1960s

Whilst incidents involving permanent way staff or engine crew were dramatic, more injuries were caused by slips, trips and falls – hence the 'tidy' message in this poster.

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17. British Railways (London Midland Region) poster, 1960

This simple but eye-catching design warned permanent way staff about the risk of trains approaching them from behind and catching them unawares.

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18. British Railways (London Midland Region) poster, 1960

One of a series of seven posters featuring danger taking the form of a tiger, this series was revised and reissued in the 1970s.

Death strikes at the odd man out!

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19. British Rail Engineering Limited goggles (issued from the late 1960s-1980s) found at Swindon Works.

From the start of the safety campaign, persuading workers to wear goggles was a frequent theme.

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20. British Rail poster, 1987

Clutter – on the lineside, in shunting yards, or in sheds – was a real problem, causing many workers to stumble or fall. This poster was part of the 1987 safety campaign, and shows the continued use of safety education.

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21. London & South Western Railway collecting dog, Laddie

With so many workers killed and injured, railway companies provided orphanages to care for children. They were funded through public donations and this dog, Laddie, collected money for the London & South Western (later Southern) Railway's orphanage at Woking.

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Background: BR Warflat