David: Health and Safety

Published: Saturday, 11 June 2016

TALKING of CaRT's somewhat selective attitude to Health and Safety we recently went up Towney lock on the Kennet & Avon and I cannot see how this ever passed a modern risk assessment.

Towney is a new lock constructed during the restoration on a slightly different site from the original and deeper, as they wished to eliminate the next lock, Ufton, which was very shallow.

There were two of us to work the lock, both well practised at cruising but we got quite frightened. The only available bollard for the front rope was close to the gate and when a gate paddle was opened slowly (there are no ground paddles) the water immediately showered over the front of the boat. Slacken rope and try again. Boat pulled forward by flow and under the torrent. Worse still, the cill of the lock is deeply undercut so that a boat surging forward is in considerable danger of getting its nose jammed under the cill.

Eventually we succeeded in filling the lock very, very slowly, but it was a nervous few minutes for us and I hate to think how a boatload of inexperienced hirers would have coped. It would have been less of a problem with two boats or a bigger crew, but that is hardly the point.

On a similar issue, the locks on the K&A, in common with most on the system, have had metal plates fitted to the inside face of the top gates to prevent boats from catching under the cross beams. Fine; a valuable contribution to safety. Except that the plates are arranged so that they are only effective if there are two boats in the lock; a single boat drifting diagonally as the lock fills can still catch its bow. Yes, you could use a stern rope as well, but with a crew of two (or one) that means at least one rope unattended and I think that introduces another hazard.

Still hydraulic

Many of the locks at the eastern end of the K&A were fitted with hydraulic paddle gear when they were restored in the 1980s, because that was when British Waterways thought the future was hydraulic. I had naively thought that in the fullness of time when the gates needed replacing, the dangerous hydraulic gear would disappear, as it has it many other parts of the system. But no, as the picture shows, brand new lock gate, hydraulic gear reattached.

Perhaps CaRT would like to tell us how hydraulic gear can be passed as safe when it cannot be operated quickly in an emergency. I wonder if they have any figures relating boat sinkings to the presence of hydraulic paddles.

Moving bridges

The K&A has a lot of swing bridges between Reading and Newbury and I have to congratulate CaRT on their ease of use. Every one is equipped with a landing on the operating side, so that single handers have no problem and all but one operated easily.

I wish those responsible for the Oxford Canal were as co-operative in this matter. The Oxford lift bridges are all operated from the offside, but there is no provision to get off the boat on that side, which if you are single handing is essential. The worst offender was Lower Heyford, where getting off is physically impossible and the ring which was installed some years ago to allow the bridge to be held down by its chain is no use since the chain on that side has disappeared.

In the end I got through by enlisting a couple of passers by. The Llangollen used to have a similar problem, but it has been cured by the provision of offside landings and in many cases hydraulic winders for the bridge. Why can't the Oxford be treated the same way? There's one in Banbury that is hydraulically operated, so it is physically possible to do.

David Hymers