ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED 23/03/2020
Following the deaths of two of its operatives after driving whilst fatigued, rail contractor Renown Consultants Ltd has been found guilty of failing to discharge its duty under Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2974, following a successful prosecution by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
The driver Zac Payne (just 20 years old) fell asleep at the wheel on his way home and crashed into a parked van at around 5:30am on 19th June 2013 on his way back from site, having left home some 25 hours earlier at 4:30am the previous morning.
FAILURE TO MANAGE FATIGUE
The court was told that Renown accepted a request from Network Rail to send a welding team out to complete an urgent overnight repair. The company sent Mr Payne and his colleague Michael Morris (48) without considering whether they were sufficiently rested. As Payne and Morris had already completed a full day’s work, the company was found to have failed to follow both its own fatigue management policies and the working time limits on safety critical work.
ORR found that the company’s policies and procedures were especially inadequate as the contract and pay structure created a clear incentive for staff to take on extra shifts, even when they knew they were too tired to do so.
FURTHER MANAGEMENT FAILURES
As further evidence of the company’s failure to manage employees who drive for work, Mr Payne had been permitted to drive the company vehicle despite the firm’s fleet insurance policy clearly stipulating that only those over the age of 25 were eligible for cover. Other employees gave evidence against the company stating that this was not a one off and that the policy was routinely flouted.
Ian Prosser, Chief Inspector of Railways said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Payne and Mr Morris.
“The rail industry relies on a huge workforce of skilled manual staff often working at night and on shifts. Fatigue is a real and known risk which reduces alertness and affects performance. Today’s tragic case shows the fatal consequences that can occur when fatigue policies are disregarded. Safety comes first and ORR will continue to monitor and take action where companies do not take sufficient care to ensure their workforce is not too tired to work.”
KEY POINTS FOR EMPLOYERS
Employers who do not put sufficient effort and resource into managing employees who drive for work should take particular note of the following points:
- The crash happened in 2013 which means the company and its directors have had the dark cloud of investigation and prosecution hanging over them for almost seven years – and it’s not finished yet! They still have to return to court at a later date to be sentenced.
- Fatigue is a massive problem in many sectors and for many businesses. It was clearly identified as the primary cause of these fatalities, and the company was found guilty of failing to manage it properly.
- The company failed to complete proper driver eligibility checks, effectively allowing its employees to drive company vehicles without proper insurance cover.
- The company was also found to have created an environment (pay and contracts) that encouraged its employees to work in an unsafe manner.
SIGNIFICANT PENALTIES EXPECTED
The trial concluded last Friday at Nottingham Crown Court where the jury found Renown Consultants guilty, almost seven years after the fatal crash. The company will now be called back for sentencing at a later date. The case went to a full trial before a jury as the company had pleaded not-guilty so the penalties will therefore be significantly higher than if the company had accepted its culpability immediately.
We will keep an eye on the case and publish the sentence once it has been handed down.
If you are concerned about any gaps in your management of those who drive for work, then use our free online gap analysis tool.
The Office of Rail and Road is the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England. Read their statement for more details of the case.