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Focus on workplace transport – a recent prosecution

18 October 2023

We review a recent case in which a 60-year-old man was sadly killed in a transport accident by a reversing vehicle, and look at the lesson that can be learnt following this tragic event.

The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) official safety statistics for 2022/2023 state that 135 workers were killed in work related accidents – and that there were 61,713 injuries to employees reported to the HSE under the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). This might not seem surprising given the number of incidents reported in the national media recently; however, an area of focus for the HSE moving forwards appears to be on the transport industry. At the end of May 2023, two major transport companies were fined a combined total of £2.2million after a depot manager was struck and killed by a reversing HGV in August 2019.

The 60-year-old man was killed at the premises of The Haulage Group Ltd (previously Howell Group Ltd) in Birmingham, when a vehicle reversed out of a parking space in the transport yard. He was the depot manager of Turners (Soham) Limited at the time. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that both companies had failed to manage the risks associated with workplace transport.

Turners (Soham) Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £1.9million and ordered to pay costs of £7,300. The Haulage Group Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,300.

Following the hearing, the HSE Principal Inspector said that the incident was "completely preventable" as both "companies failed to recognise and control the risks associated with workplace transport, and in particular the dangers of reversing vehicles and poor visibility". This case is the latest in a string of fines issued after transport-related prosecutions spanning back to late 2022. The common theme in these prosecutions is that the HSE advises that businesses need to ensure that there are systems in place so that others are aware of workplace risks. In particular, the HSE has advised several times that companies need to assess and apply safe methods of working and clear controls when it comes to managing transport operations on their sites. The HSE's view is that there are easy steps – and the HSE has made clear that it will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action.

Lessons to be learnt – HSE Guidance on workplace transport

The HSE published a comprehensive guide to Workplace Transport on their website. By law, both employers and self-employed people must assess the risks to anyone who might be affected by their work activity, and take appropriate preventative and protective steps to control these risks.

Risk assessments must consider all workplace transport activities. HSE guidance is that you must first identify the hazards – where vehicles are, what drivers are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it. To identify the hazards, you can then look at each of these activities and ask what the possible dangers are. You must next assess who might be harmed and how – consider not only drivers but also all other employees, contractors, subcontractors, customers, cleaners, visitors and members of the public. It is then important to evaluate the risks posed in terms of the likelihood that somebody will be harmed and how seriously they might be harmed. This helps to assess how you can eliminate or reduce the risks.

Examples of ways to reduce risk suggested by the HSE include instructing and training employees to take care; changing the layout of the workplace (separate pathways for pedestrians or installing road humps); use vehicles with appropriate safety features like speed limiters and set up safe systems of work by way of speed limits. The HSE stipulates that you must then record the findings of your assessment, and make sure that the risk assessment is reviewed regularly – particularly where new hazards emerge in introducing new vehicles, changing traffic routes or changing the nature of work.

The DWF Regulatory Compliance and Investigations team regularly advise transport operators on health and safety cases, including workplace transport accidents, and are experienced in dealing with a range of both advisory and contentious transport matters.

If you require any further information regarding the above, then please contact Joanne.Witheford@dwf.law or Simon.Belfield@dwf.law

Authors: Lauren Slater & Joanne Witheford

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