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Government Drive to Cut Deaths Forces the Hand of Business

June 16, 2009

The Dept for Transport has recently issued a consultation document, titled A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World. (See item posted on this site dated 12th May 2009)

According to the document a third of road deaths occur while drivers are on work business, so it is surprising that just half a page of its 120 pages is dedicated to that topic.

The reason for this is that, for business, the Government has a different tactic in mind to help it reach its stated aim. In this case, last year’s Corporate Manslaughter Act together with this year’s changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act will be used to make businesses take driving at work seriously, because the consequences of being found guilty of failing to comply in the event of an accident will be extremely expensive. And not just financially.

Although the first corporate manslaughter case, due in court this month, does not involve driving for work, some of the next few cases will, according to leading barrister Gerard Forlin, who specialises in defending businesses in health and safety, and corporate and gross negligence and manslaughter.

He points out: “The new law makes it easier to prosecute larger companies.”

“Since January 2009 under the Health and Safety at Work Act, sections 7 and 37, managers and directors can be imprisoned for up to two years. The test that they will face is what they ought to have known not what they said they knew. Namely, the ‘I know nothing’ response will not be sufficient”.

“It may well be fleet and road incidents where the early prosecutions will be because, as compared to a major rail or air crash, they will be easier to investigate”.

Forlin’s view is backed by the Health and Safety Executive.

“Managing the risks of employees who drive at work requires more than just compliance with road traffic legislation,” said an HSE spokesman.

“The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to take appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others who may be affected by their activities when at work. This includes the time when they are driving, or riding at work, whether this is in a company or hired vehicle, or in the employees own vehicle”.

“There will always be risks associated with driving. Although these cannot be completely controlled, an employer has a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to manage these risks down to a low level as reasonably possible in the same way as they would in the workplace”

However, the scary thing for business is that it’s not the HSE that will take the lead in investigating work-related fatalities, as happens with all other work related deaths. Instead it’s the police that will lead the initial investigation.

Forlin says, ” The police have started looking at wider issues than traffic in such circumstances. Police already have a procedure to look at work-related road deaths. In essence they look at the driver, the car and the organisation.”


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