Tram drivers working on the same Croydon line where seven people died in an accident in November 2016 have admitted to falling asleep while operating the vehicle. 

Four drivers admitted to falling asleep when driving trams during their careers, with one driver claiming to have woken up after passing a stop sign, saying “a person was very fortunate that I didn’t run them over.” 

A safety device inside a tram, known as the “dead man’s handle”, is supposed to activate when pressure is relieved from the handheld level used to accelerate. Once activated, an alarm sounds and the emergency brake is applied. However, some drivers claim the device was “not fit for purpose”. 

It has also been reported that drivers feared to report instances of failing safety devices as it would suggest they had fallen asleep while driving, which they could be fired for. One driver believes that most tram drivers had fallen asleep at least once during their career.

“Continual improvements to health and safety protocols, and properly enforced tougher sanctions for employers who flout them, is the only way to prevent tragic workplace accidents.”

Samantha Hemsley, national head of the serious injury team at Thompsons

A BBC investigation for the Victoria Derbyshire programme found that at least three trams have been recorded speeding on the same line since the fatal crash in Croydon last November. One tram was understood to have been travelling at a speed of 40mph in a 25mph zone. 

In the aftermath of November’s accident, a tram driver spoke out and said “crazy” shift patterns could have contributed to the crash. Another driver also admitted to speeding on certain stretches to meet “timetabling pressures”. 

An interim report into the accident suggested that the tram was speeding before it derailed and that the driver may have “lost awareness”. 

The new information comes as Thompsons Solicitors marks Workers’ Memorial Day, which remembers those killed at work but also fights for improved rights for workers across the UK. 

Samantha Hemsley, national head of the serious injury team at Thompsons, said: “As we mark Workers’ Memorial Day, the shocking concerns raised by tram drivers show just how important workers’ safety is. Under no circumstance should individuals put themselves and others at risk because of the demands of their job. And sadly the concerns voiced by tram drivers are not isolated to the transport sector. A BBC report earlier this year found that more than four in 10 junior doctors fell asleep at the wheel after driving home from a night shift. 

“Continual improvements to health and safety protocols, and properly enforced tougher sanctions for employers who flout them, is the only way to prevent tragic workplace accidents.”