Health and safety on the road

Hands up all those employers who take a fairly relaxed approach to health and safety, because they think their work place is really quite a safe place, maybe an office?

Well consider this……

Car Crash - Stourbridge
Image by Ian Hampton via Flickr

It is estimated that one third of all road traffic accidents involve someone who is ‘at work’!

Maybe you are thinking that providing all vehicles have a valid MOT certificate and the driver has a valid licence, then as employer you have done all you need to do – think again!

Health and safety law applies to ‘on the road’ working activities just as it applies to other work activities. If you send employees out onto the road, even if its only occassionally, then you have a legal duty to consider the risks they face as part of your health and safety system. Guidance is available from the HSE website.

Update

17/11/2009

By Jeremy Scott, Head of Regulatory and Corporate Defence at Langleys

Leading Lincoln law firm Langleys is alerting employers to the ruling in a recent case in which a company was fined £30,000 for breaches of health and safety legislation relating to the death of an employee who fell asleep at the wheel.

The driver was involved in an accident whilst driving home following a third consecutive shift of nearly 20 hours. The case is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK where the company in question was convicted even though their employee died outside working hours, on his commute home.

The Court in the ‘Produce Connection’ case found that the potato company had failed to monitor their employees’ working hours. The court heard that the driver was thought to be suffering from “chronic fatigue” and had subsequently fallen asleep at the wheel. The company was ordered to pay the fine, together with costs of £24,000, after admitting two breaches of health and safety law.

This case demonstrates the need for employers to seriously think about the impact of driver fatigue, during both working hours and also on the commute home. A number of recent and current investigations show that the police and HSE will be jointly investigating accidents with a view to including not only the employee who was driving, but also the employer, in any subsequent prosecution. Company directors and other senior employees could find themselves in the dock facing not only large fines but also a prison sentence following the increase in penalties under the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008, which has only recently come into force.

Langleys would advise employers to carry out appropriate risk assessments both in relation to employees and also in respect of each vehicle used and each journey undertaken. Thereafter they need to set up policies relating to driving, making it clear that any breach constitutes a disciplinary offence, provide ongoing training and back this up with relevant training records

The guiding principle here has to be that employers should periodically review driver fatigue, both during ‘at work’ driving, and during commuting, and develop measures to guard against it.

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