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Andrew Brammer, Partner in our Regulatory team considers the lessons to be taken from a recent workplace transport safety case.

The recent successful prosecution of two major transport companies has brought into sharp focus the catastrophic consequences of the failure of employers to discharge their duties and obligations in respect of workplace transport safety.

On 30 August 2019, Mr Neil Roberts, a depot manager for Turners (Soham) Limited, was struck and killed by an HGV reversing out of a parking space in the transport yard at the premises of The Haulage Group Limited in Birmingham. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) resulted in criminal proceedings being brought against the two companies, concluding in a fine of £300,000 and costs for The Haulage Group Limited and £1.9m and costs for Turners (Soham) Limited.

The HSE inspector that led the investigation stated that Mr. Roberts’ death was “completely preventable”, and “If the companies had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and to put a safe system of work in place, this incident would not have happened.” The Inspector went on to comment that “The principle of ensuring pedestrians and vehicles are kept apart is well known and the measures needed to ensure separation and control the risk need not be complicated.”

Echoing the comments of the HSE Inspector, I suggest the baseline action an employer might take to manage workplace transport should include the following:

  • carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks from workplace transport activities that clearly and simply identifies who is at risk from what activities and why. If the risk cannot be eliminated completely, then the risk assessment should identify steps and measures needed to reduce the risks to as low as reasonably practicable
  • non-employees must not be overlooked and the employer must ensure they are not exposed to a risk of harm from your business including (but not limited to) the workplace transport activities. An example of a clear and obvious risk would be that of a reversing vehicle striking a pedestrian as was the case in the incident involving Mr. Roberts
  • based on the risk assessment, employees need to be given a Safe System of Work (SSoW) to instruct them on how to carry out their jobs safely. This should be supported by instruction and training on how to apply the SSoW and ultimately, work safely. This needs to be documented, monitored and repeated to ensure that complacency is not allowed to creep in
  • management of vehicle movements on site or within the workplace is vital and there are many simple practical steps and control measures that can be taken, like the use of vehicle-only or pedestrian-only safe zones, pedestrian walkways, barriers, one-way systems, signage, audible alarms, lighting and supervision. You need to find the right combination of measures to fit your operation
  • consider how to ensure Segregation of pedestrians from moving vehicles. Do your customers need to walk across your yard to get from the car park to your offices?
  • management oversight is vital. If this is absent then risks will go unchecked with potentially tragic consequences. As the HSE says, 'Plan Do Check Act'
  • take expert advice from lawyers with experience in Workplace Transport Health and Safety. In addition, the HSE’s website has guidance for employers on how to take steps to manage the risks associated with workplace transport operations.

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