Defend Section 12

Submitted by AWL on 4 March, 2007 - 9:25

The fire regulations for sub-surface stations (enacted under Section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971) came from the Fennell report into the King’s Cross Fire. New rules helped to ensure the safety of our passengers, staff and emergency services.

This is often presented as just being about London Underground, but it is not. There are other metro systems in Britain - in Glasgow, Merseyside and Tyneside - and there are mainline stations which also qualify as 'sub-surface', such as Birmingham New Street.

The Fennell report set down standards on means of escape, means of safely fighting a fire, means of detection and raising the alarm, staff training - and crucially, minimum staffing levels at all sub-surface stations.

Now for the second time, the government is trying to abolish these regulations. Their first attempt was by drafting a new Regula-tory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2004, watering down existing laws into a series of guidelines. This would put us and passengers at risk and was defeated in the House of Commons by the action of the RMT Parliamentary group (showing the effectiveness of representation through socialist Labour MPs).

The Government then said it would repeal Seciton12 and implement the Fire Safety Order in April 2006. This was again opposed by RMT-sponsored MPs, protests and lobbies of Parliament. The government now says it will monitor the situation and scrap Section 12 six to 12 months after the Order comes into force. We can not allow this to happen. It is the thin edge of the wedge that will open the door to wholesale staff cuts and dangerous working practices.

The new Order does not specify minimum standards. The Order will move towards a risk-assessment-based approach to fire safety, removing the regulations for sub-service stations put in place after King's Cross. Will the bosses never stop putting profit above our safety?

It is clear to anyone with half a brain that if you replace legislation with guidelines, you will see those guidelines stretched to breaking point and beyond.

Why is the government so eager to push this through? The short answer: money. The less the bosses have to worry about safety standards, the more profit they can turn in. Until the body bags are pulled out of trains and stations again, they will not care. They have learnt nothing from King’s Cross or from the July 7th bombings. Guidelines can never replace legislation.

RMT is campaigning hard on this issue, and ASLEF and firefighters' union FBU have also taken part in protests. Join their fight. This affects all staff; train drivers stuck in a tunnel need station staff to assist them - if Section 12 is gone they will not be there. Station staff jobs are on the line and those left will have their lives on the line.

We must campaign to keep Section 12 and if necessary take industrial action to defend it.