SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Life and death – life after death

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

This is not comforting to write; it will not be comforting to read.

If you read my obituary (hopefully when more years have passed) you may see tributes to the reduction in unnecessary road deaths after I helped set targets for the reduction in casualties.

The idea came in 1986 from Nick Ross, the journalist who has been concerned to reduce avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap.

He and I continue our joint efforts, in part through IAM Roadsmart.

The reduction from 5,600 to 1,700 road deaths annually over 30 years is welcome though not enough.

One reason to deal with the A27 is to save lives locally.

Before serving as junior roads minister, I had responsibility for workplace safety.

Yes, our deaths were lower than in most other countries; yes, we could do so much better.

Action was needed for risk reduction. Action was needed to cut the consequences when things go wrong.

At work, roll-over cages on agricultural tractors saved lives. Keeping train doors locked unless the train was stopped saved lives.

The Grenfell Inquiry has started. What happened? What was the response to the fire? What went right and what was wrong? What are the lessons and how soon can they be applied?

On Tuesday, the largest Commons committee room was packed with Ministers, MPs and members of the House of Lords.

We listened in respectful grief to survivors. A mother from the 11th floor spoke of the numbers of fires in and around Grenfell and its partner block. They were common.

The fire on Wednesday, June 14, caused 71 deaths, including her uncle on a higher floor.

More than 200 people escaped. She described being advised to stay in her flat. As a precaution, she filled the bath. That water helped to suppress fire around her.

After hours, the fire officers found her household and brought them out.

The annual West Sussex Fire Station open day at Broadwater Green is one way we know the professionalism of our local fire crews.

What will be established? What will change? The procedures for deciding ‘stay put’ or ‘evacuation’. Whole system testing of building construction, not just individual performance standards of material. Creating alternative stair cases. Being sure that fire suppression works.

The lesson I have tried to carry through life is to identify and to promote practical ways to avoid unnecessary death and serious injury.

Do the easy things first, while building in the methods that cut risk automatically.

For example, how was the Croydon tram system left without automatic speed control? Dangerous speed limited curves should not be dependent on a skilled trained driver always being alert.

We have a responsibility to each other and to ourselves. Being wise after the event is essential. Better still, we can together try to be wise beforehand.

Years ago, I commissioned research on how to halve the risks of fatal consequences when a road vehicle might drop from an overbridge onto a high speed rail line. That was before the Selby crash.

There are times when the siren voices are needed, more often they should be heeded too.