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No shortcuts: health and safety in the transport workplace

Andrew Brammer, Partner in our regulatory team, discusses the hurdles in maintaining workplace transport safety.

In this article, Andrew Brammer, specialist health and safety and regulatory compliance partner in our Birmingham office, considers the challenges faced by employers and operators in maintaining workplace transport safety.

All employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of their employees and to ensure that non-employees are not exposed to a risk of harm from the way a business is carried out. Failure to properly discharge these duties is a criminal offence punishable by a fine, for a company, and/or potential prison sentences for directors or senior managers. It is through this lens that I examine all workplace safety issues, and transport is no different.

A key phrase from a regulatory compliance perspective is “reasonably practicable”. The Health and Safety Executive summarises “reasonably practicable” (or “as low as is reasonably practicable”) as weighing up a risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control it. This is a far from simple balancing exercise and requires care, thought, diligence and commitment.

The journey to workplace safety starts with a risk assessment. To be able to identify the steps required to achieve safety, you first need to identify what are the risks within the workplace, and who is exposed to them. In respect of workplace transport safety, any risk assessment must start with examining where the transport activities take place, what vehicles operate at that location, who has access to that area and how can interaction between vehicles and humans within that space be properly managed and controlled to reduce the risks to persons to as low as is reasonably practicable.

The HSE has produced some really useful guidance in respect of “workplace transport safety” and one particularly useful piece of information is the HSE Workplace Transport checklist.

The checklist sets out a series of headline areas of examination and then asks questions of the duty-holder to help focus attention on key elements that must be considered. A negative response to one of these questions could amount to an actionable failure. The headline areas of examination are:

  •  Managing and supervising workplace transport safety
  • Site layout and internal traffic routes
  • Vehicle movements
  • Coupling/uncoupling
  •  Loading/unloading activities
  • Tipping
  • Work at height on vehicles
  • Vehicle selection and suitability
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Driver competence

Any duty-holder seeking to achieve regulatory compliance for workplace transport safety should be able to demonstrate that all these areas of examination have been considered, risk-assessed, and that appropriate action has been taken to manage the risks identified. Whatever the size of the operation, it is very likely that some, or all, of these activities will take place at the site.

From our own experience, the absolute fundamental issues for focused attention are segregation and supervision. If people are segregated from moving vehicles, then they are far less likely to be exposed to a risk of injury from them. This simple aim of elimination of the risk applies to all workplaces but is particularly relevant to transport safety. It is going to be very difficult to persuade a Crown Court judge that being hit by a reversing goods vehicle is unlikely to result in anything but death or severe injury.

In respect of supervision, this covers a host of separate actors for example, your driver and non-driver staff, visitors and third party contractors. Supervision also includes monitoring of behaviour. Busy people will take shortcuts. In workplace transport safety that literally means shortcuts. People will take the shortest route to get to their desired destination. This may involve deviating from the designated walkways set out by a diligent employer to ensure that person’s safety, or driving across a pedestrian only area because it is the easiest way to get to where you want to go. Monitoring behaviour, providing training, offering corrective support when it is required, and ultimately enforcing your site rules and health and safety procedures are vital steps in creating and maintaining a safe and productive workplace.

Health and safety considerations in workplace transport area can seem daunting, but by breaking it down into its constituent parts and asking yourself, “can we do that in a safer way”, is a great start to achieving safety-success.

For expert advice and guidance on criminal and regulatory issues including health and safety, the environment, financial crime, healthcare and transport, contact our regulatory law solicitors.