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Taking the right road

19 September 2016

Dr Karen McDonnell, RoSPA’s occupational safety and health policy adviser, discusses the dangers of vehicles in the workplace and how to avoid any potential incidents.

Hundreds of thousands of workers up and down the UK drive for work every day, and the risks to them on the road are well known – around one quarter to one third of all crashes on UK roads involve someone who was driving for work.

To protect drivers and other road users, organisations must have robust fleet safety management procedures in place.

But an employer’s duty to its staff does not end when the journey does, and often it is when the destination has been reached that some of the most devastating accidents can happen.

Recently, Leedale, a waste management and plant hire company in Derbyshire, was fined after a worker was fatally crushed between two vehicles while refuelling in the firm’s own yard.

Derby Crown Court heard how the 39 year old man was refuelling at the rear of the vehicle when a tipper lorry reversed into him. He was crushed between the two vehicles and died of catastrophic head injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive into the incident found there were no marked or identified vehicle and pedestrian routes. There were no rules or control of reversing manoeuvres, and the lighting at the site was poor and below the required standard. The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,737.

And it’s not just SMEs where such an incident can happen – without the proper protections and systems in place, large national and international firms are also exposed.

In September 2012, a driver was run over by his own vehicle at DHL’s Dunstable depot, fracturing his pelvis in five places. The 42 year old man tripped and fell while attempting to catch up with the cab before it rolled away and hit another pedestrian or building.

The HSE investigation in that incident revealed that the company had failed to assess the risks associated with parking on uneven or sloping ground, and so had not identified or implemented controls or safeguards such as the use of wheel chocks and an audible handbrake alarm.

Your responsibilities

It is incumbent on every workplace to be safe for employees, by ensuring that traffic routes are suitable and that where vehicles and pedestrians share a traffic route, there must be enough separation between them.

Risk assessments must take into account how to keep pedestrians away from vehicles, where possible, and how the separate areas are marked. Crossing points must also be clear for both drivers and pedestrians, and you must consider how all parties are informed about routes and layouts.

And it’s not just collisions between vehicles and pedestrians that could cause an injury in areas where the two meet. Employers must also assess the possibility of things falling from vehicles, how fumes might affect those in the area, and noise protection.

The HSE states that, wherever possible, separate routes should be provided for pedestrians to keep them away from vehicles, and that pedestrian traffic routes should be along “desire lines” – the paths that people would naturally follow – to encourage people to stay on them. Footbridges and subways are good examples of methods of separation.

Consider the use of protective barriers, clear markings, or raised kerbs to mark the separate areas, and where needed suitable barriers should be provided at entrances and exits, and corners of buildings.

Crossing points between the two need to be carefully assessed to ensure pedestrians and drivers can see clearly in all directions, and that such points are marked and signposted.

Unless they need to be there, pedestrians should be kept away from areas where vehicles could be working. In places where this is not possible, consider how best to ensure pedestrians are safe.

Segregation – separate vehicle and pedestrian doors – should be provided if necessary and if possible. If vehicles use routes inside buildings, use signs and markings on the floor.

For visiting pedestrians, make sure that they report to the site office, and tell them about site safety policies and procedures before they are allowed into areas which may contain vehicles. You may need to provide them with hi-vis clothing.

For those working in or around vehicles, it’s important to ensure that the environment is suitable to protect them from harm. For example, driving surfaces must be fit for purpose – even, free from potholes, and not so sloped or slippery that someone could slip. Every workplace must be properly lit, particularly in any areas where traffic movements take place, and any lighting equipment must be properly cleaned and maintained. Try to lay out parking areas to reduce the need for manoeuvring and reversing for large vehicles. There should be enough space in loading areas for vehicles to move safely and for people to move around, and anyone not involved in that activity should be kept away from loading areas.

It’s imperative to establish a system to manage health and safety rather than just implement a series of one-off interventions, to ensure you have the policies, people and procedures you need to identify your main hazards (things that could cause harm), assess your risks (the things that could cause harm which have the highest probability of happening and the worst potential consequences) and ensure that your risk control measures are adequate (including being sensible and balanced). It also enables you to work out what training, information and supervision are needed and how you are going to consult your workers, and it creates a framework within which you can monitor your performance, investigate and learn lessons from incidents and also make time and space regularly to review your system and see where change is necessary.

These are the crucial elements of an effective approach to health and safety management and, rather like the body’s immune system, they are the features that help you to tackle serious risks before harm occurs.