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Transportation and logistics health and safety spotlight: Use of vehicles in the workplace

  • Legal Development 01 September 2021 01 September 2021
  • UK & Europe

  • Insurance & Reinsurance

According to the most recent published Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics published in July 2021, 142 workers were fatally injured in 2020/21; an increase of 29 from the previous year.

This represents a 28% yearly increase in workplace fatalities with the three most common incidents resulting in loss of life which are falls from height (35%), being struck by a moving vehicle (25%) and being struck by a moving object (17%). The majority of deaths were men with 30% of the total being aged 60 or over.

It would appear that despite the COVID-19 disruption to working hours and furlough, workplace fatalities have continued to rise. The risks appear both on the road and within the site/workplace environment in addition to attendance at third party sites.

Every year there are over 5,000 incidents which involve transport in the workplace and on average, 50 of those result in fatalities. Estimates suggest that up to one third of all road traffic accidents involve someone who is at work at the time.

What are the specific risks?

In terms of the use of vehicles and transportation, particular risks in the workplace are:

  • Reversing vehicles
  • Poor planning and signalling for workplace transport
  • Fork lift truck incidents
  • Loading and unloading
  • Coupling and uncoupling
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Competence and driver training

There have been a spate of recent prosecutions that really highlight the issues and risks faced by businesses and drivers and which bring home the reality of the dangers of vehicles in the workplace.

The charges faced by defendants in these recent cases are significant; one including the most serious charge of gross negligence manslaughter which resulted in a director receiving a 15 year custodial sentence following conviction at trial for failing to replace faulty brakes on a heavy goods vehicle. The driver involved in the collision was also convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and received a six year sentence.

Other matters involve public inquiries held by the Traffic Commissioner which can result in directors being disqualified indefinitely from holding operator’s licence, or even the revocation of an operator’s licence. These outcomes can understandably have a significant detrimental effect on a business’s commercial and reputational concerns and in the worst case scenario, ability to continue trading.

How can businesses identify and minimise the risks?

Businesses need to be fully aware of the risks in and around their workplace and ensure effective control measures are implemented and maintained in order to comply with their duties under health and safety legislation.

But what can a business do to ensure it is operating safely and in compliance with the relevant legislation and so protect its position? There are a number of practical steps that can be taken, which include:

  • Regular audits of risk documentation and training
  • Updating  technology in vehicles and fitting camera mirrors wherever possible
  • Checking the qualifications of agency drivers (passed in English) and ensure training is provided to the same level as permanent full time employees
  • Consider in house group and facilities management
  • Ensure regular maintenance and repairs of all vehicles are undertaken and this is documented
  • Wherever possible avoid vehicles reversing but implementing effective traffic management structures and using banksmen
  • Make yourself familiar with the regular updates from organisations such as the Road Haulage Association, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, the Traffic Commissioners Office and the Health and Safety Executive.

Changes on the horizon:

Traffic commissioners office

The Traffic Commissioners Office (TCO) has set out its strategic objectives for 2021-2023 as published on 9 August 2021. The TCO’s vision is to champion safe, fair and reliable transport for passengers and goods; and a new relationship with the DVSA is being developed. Legislative changes are planned to the operator licencing system which establish the integration of light goods vehicles and longer semi-trailers into the operator licencing system. Opportunities will be identified for the improved use of IT and preparation for the future means of transport, such as autonomous and electric vehicles.

Highway code changes

Changes to the Highway Code will come into effect later this year. The hierarchy of road users will see drivers of larger vehicles such as lorries and coaches being given extra responsibility for the safety of road users who are potentially more at risk such as cyclists and pedestrians. The reformed Highway Code brings with it a controversial rule to give cyclists right of way to undertake turning vehicles, which is already a high risk zone for cyclists to position themselves in.

New government initiative for carbon zero

The government’s transport decarbonisation plan published on 14 July 2021 is  highly ambitious. Across its 220 pages, strict timelines are set for the phasing out of sales of polluting vehicles and the aim for a net zero rail network by 2050. To support the implementation of this, a new regulatory framework is planned which should ensure the changes are brought into effect.

Van safety

The General Safety Regulation sets out the safety technologies and design features that must become standard for all new vehicles sold by defined dates. This includes the requirement for all new vans to be fitted with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) by 2024.

Life sentences for dangerous drivers

The introduction of the Causing Death by Dangerous Driving (Sentencing) Bill in 2020 seeks to amend the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life imprisonment. In 2020,174 drivers were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving. In addition, 19 individuals were convicted of causing death by careless driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs. The present bill will bring life sentences for both offences.

Law commission consultation on automated vehicles

The law commission has published jointly with the Scottish Law commission responses to its third consultation on automated vehicles. The proposals provide a framework for the roll out for regulation, approval, deployment, safety and criminal liability. Whilst doing this the law commission recognised that there are many unknowns regarding the development of self-driving technology, its capabilities and social acceptance. The final report is due at the end of this year.

Final thoughts to take away...

It is clear that significant changes and developments are on the way with regards to not only driving behaviours, but also the capabilities of our vehicles in the future. Businesses need to be aware of the planned changes and be ready to implement these where required to do so, and implement the necessary training and knowledge sharing across the workforce to ensure awareness and compliance across the board.  Failure to acknowledge and adopt the changes could prove costly in every way.

*This content was written by BLM prior to its merger with Clyde & Co*


Additional authors:

Lindsay Orr, Associate

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