Backhouse Jones Watermark

“Health & Safety – do it or get sued!”

14 July

The commercial vehicle industry is one of relatively high risk. Large, metal machines towering over their operators; heavy loads of hazardous waste and other articles; and long days of hard driving; means there are several dangers prevalent.
Thus, it is more important than ever that businesses and employers looking to enter this industry be aware of the duties they have towards their employees with regards to health and safety.

This is something that is true of any sized business; be it a small haulage company or a gargantuan company group, all must put in place measures to protect those they employ.

Fortunately, this article is here to help you do just that.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
This is a vital piece of legislation, it is your sacred text when it comes to the duties you owe to your employees.

The duties of employers take pride of place in the second section of this law, outlined and accessible for all. As it stands, all employers have a duty to:

  • Provide plant and systems of work that are safe and absent of risk
  • Arrange for a safe way the handling, storage, and transport of substances is carried out
  • Provide the appropriate training and information to ensure that their employees can operate safely
  • Maintain its place of work with regards to both its condition and accessibility

Examples of how you might adhere to these duties within the commercial vehicle industry spring easily to mind:

Ensure that you have designed a safe and risk free system or method in which employees load the articles or substances to be transported into the vehicles. It is also imperative that these employees are made aware that such a system or method is in existence.

Conduct regular inspections of the commercial vehicles your employees will be driving. Unhealthy or damaged vehicles pose a danger to their drivers.

Carry out regular checks on the place where the vehicles are stored to ensure that it is an appropriate location and does not compromise the quality of your vehicle or fleet.

These are just some examples of how you can protect your employees, by doing this you also protect yourself from expensive litigation and poor publicity.

Further examples and guidance has been helpfully provided in The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Great emphasis is evident in these regulations on risk assessments. Risk assessments are crucial to the upholding of health and safety duties, they provide pre-eminence and highlight areas where improvement is required.

If you are running any sort of operation it is vital that you have your procedures and the relevant environment assessed, so that you can do all you can to minimise the risks of your employees becoming injured.

Maybe you don’t have time to go around fixing every single potential hazard and wrapping your employees in bubble wrap, the answer to this problem is simple. Delegate. Ensure that there is always someone on hand with the appropriate training and competence to impose safety procedure and oversee operations. This person must be training and informed of all the safety procedures and how best to implement them in the work place.

Understandably, this may be difficult in running a commercial vehicle business as the delegated health and safety official is unlikely to be able to be in multiple vehicles at once. Instead, perhaps ensure that the interior of all vehicles are decorated with the rules and regulations put in place by your business to prevent injury.

Failing to adhere to any of the precautions outlined thus far will almost definitely expose you to civil litigation in the event of minor injury, potentially stretching to criminal liability if the failure to impose health and safety standards is abhorrent enough.

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
This is the Law that comes into play in the worst-case scenario.

Where, as a company, you have shirked your health and safety responsibilities and therefore caused the death of a worker. In such an instance, you are likely to attract criminal liability. Your business will be fined and you may well find yourself on the wrong end of a custodial sentence.

Indeed, only recently the companies Claxton Engineering and Encompass Project Management have found themselves encumbered with hefty fines after 4 workers were killed because of their ignorance of health and safety. The director of Encompass found himself awarded a 7-and-a-half-monh custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years.

The 2007 Act is very clear about the duty of care that businesses and companies owe, particularly involving:

  • The supply of goods or services
  • The carrying out of any construction or maintenance
  • The carrying out of any activity on a commercial basis
  • The use or keeping by the organization of any plant, vehicle or other thing

When carrying out any of these activities, businesses must be considerate of their employees or occupiers of premises. Should they breach any of these duties, then under the 2007 Act they will attract criminal liability.
What Can Directors Do?
The quest for a safe working environment begins at board level. It is the responsibility of the directors, as the controlling body of the company, to ensure that the duties in law as they have been outlined above are respected and implemented into the carrying on of the business.

This is true of companies anywhere, regardless of size or turnover. The job of managing the company falls to the director(s) and it is they that must ensure that health and safety is always at the forefront of the managerial mind.

If, given the nature and size of the company, this is a burdensome task, then it would be wise to allocate one director specifically to oversee the implementation and respecting of health and safety procedures.

It is in the interests of the directors to ensure that the workplace is safe as much as it is in the interests of the employees of the company. If injury or death occurs, it will be the directors of the company that most likely face the wrath of litigation.

Final Word
Directors of all commercial vehicle businesses must take charge of their operations and face up to the duties they shoulder as controllers of an organisation. If you feel the need, conduct a thorough evaluation of your health and safety procedures to see if there is anything more you can do to secure a safe working environment.

Feel free to contact Backhouse Jones at 01254 828300 for recommendations or advice on how your business can be made safer and less likely to attract any liability.

Strategic and measured business solutions providing 20:20 vision for your operation.
Bespoke training for your business DISCOVER TRAINING
24 hour legal cover for a fixed fee DISCOVER UP