It was late morning on a Friday and the 6 man crew from a building repairs company were loading their company vans up with the remaining materials and tools following the early completion of yet another successful job in Bristol.
The job manager who was part of the crew told the lads to meet up on the way back to “have a drink and lunch on me” as a reward for completing the job ahead of schedule, saving the company money and leaving a more than happy regular customer. The crew were all good mates and regularly got stuck in to achieve the regular Friday afternoon reward if at all possible.
The company vans were typical builder’s vehicles, with two being long wheelbase vans, and the other an open back tipper that towed the heavy compactor roller on its simple trailer. All vehicles were under 4 years old as the company tried to promote a decent image and the vehicles travelled the UK regularly.
Each crew had regular drivers who looked after the vehicles when out of the depot. All staff were experienced in working away from home and somewhat enjoyed it apart from the long drive back. Friday afternoon went quickly and after a few beers and some food the crew decided to hit the road for the 80 mile journey back, where the drivers would drop off the lads at home, or a nearby pub if asked.
On the journey, two of the vehicles were messing around by drifting from side to side much to the amusement of the crew. They travelled in convoy and about two thirds of the way back, on a dual carriageway, the van travelling at the back suddenly saw the compactor roller trailer tyre blow out and tip the roller out into the road.
Mayhem ensued as the rear van tried to avoid the roller to no avail. The impact caused the driver to lose control and the van swerved and overturned. It slid into a lamp post and the impact crushed the cab area. The driver of the tipper immediately felt the trailer pull and kept his vehicle straight and pulled up quickly, the front vehicle driver did not see what had happened and only noticed they were missing further up the dual carriageway.
As the crew from the tipper ran back to the scene, they telephoned the emergency services and tried to help their trapped colleagues. Police and ambulances arrived and the injured men were taken to hospital. The passenger in the van that turned over was not wearing a seatbelt and sustained massive head and chest injuries while the driver sustained arm and leg injuries. At the scene, the police offi cer quickly spoke to the crew members to find out what happened and as the injuries were so serious, police collision investigators soon arrived.
As the third van driver had now made it back to the scene, the police officer quickly found out who all of the drivers involved were and spoke to them individually. He also breathalysed them all as a matter of routine.
The injured driver who was taken to hospital was breathalysed whilst being treated. Unfortunately, the two company drivers involved were found to be over the legal limit of 35mg of breath alcohol. Both drivers involved in the incident were arrested and taken to the police station for interview and a second breath test. This included the driver of the van that overturned after he was released from hospital.
All vehicles involved in the collision were impounded and inspected. The towing van was also found to be overloaded on the rear axle. The cause of the collision was found to be excessive speed for the towing vehicle, poor maintenance of the trailer and cradle being used to transport the roller in as much that the small mudguard was damaged and rubbed through the tyre causing the blow out, and the drivers being under the influence of alcohol.
As all the drivers were at work at the time of the collision, the police soon established it as a work journey and the investigation would likely involve interviewing the business as there was a possible fatality to the employee passenger as his injuries were very serious. Two days after the collision the police investigators visited the business and upon arrival were directed to the Operations Director and the Health & Safety Manager. Various staff and directors were interviewed under the Police And Criminal Evidence Act (PACE caution).
The investigation at the company revealed a culture of letting the crews get on with the job as they felt fit, with little senior management input on a daily basis. There were no major previous incidents or convictions, however upon inspecting the company’s policies and processes for managing staff, they were found to be inadequate and failed to state rules or give any advice regarding alcohol or drugs, there had not been any training in respect of driving for work, and no training or guidance whatsoever for towing any types of equipment or trailers.
The practice of an “early finish and social ending of the working week” was accepted and known practice by the company as a whole. In interview, some staff stated that “this is how it is in the building trade” It was evident that the accepted practice and reward of going to the pub was a major aggravating factor along with the disregard and lack of policies and processes for managing staff who drive on business.
Maintenance of vehicles and equipment fell short of what is required and this is also an aggravating factor. Fortunately the injured employee passenger recovered, and no other member of the public was involved or injured in the incident.
The police and HSE investigation found:
- Substandard vehicle and driver handbooks in relation to: - Alcohol/drugs rules - Driving whilst tired - Appropriate behaviour whilst driving - Daily vehicle/equipment checks
- No defect reporting system being used
- Inadequate equipment safety record keeping
- Poor vehicle maintenance record keeping
- No employee training records
- Management failures - permitting and neglect
- Risk and reward culture
The business was prosecuted under Health & Safety legislation section 2 and section 37, they were also convicted for one of the vehicles being overloaded.
The company pleaded Guilty at the first opportunity in the Magistrates Court:
Breach HASWA Section 2: Fine of £20,000
Breach HASWA Section 37: Fine of £10,000
Vehicle Overleading: Fine of £500
Prosecution Costs: £1,200
Victim Surcharge: £120
Total Fine & Costs: £31,820
Both drivers were dealt with at the Magistrates Court. For the offence of Excess alcohol they were individually sentenced after pleading guilty:
Band C Fine £850
Prosecution Costs £85
Victim Surcharge £85
Both drivers were disqualified from driving for 15 months and subsequently lost their jobs.
The driver of the overloaded vehicle was fined an extra £250 for the offence