29 April 2020

Driver prosecution reinforces the need for fatigue management processes

A company has been convicted after two of its employees were killed in a road crash in what is believed to be one of the first van driver fatigue-related prosecutions in the UK.

The prosecution was brought by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England, against Renown Consultants Ltd. for failing to ensure the two men were sufficiently rested to work and travel safely. It was the first time that ORR has prosecuted a company in relation to failures of fatigue management.

Renown Consultants Ltd. was found guilty of failing to discharge its duty under Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was therefore guilty of an offence contrary to Section 33 of the Act. Sentencing is expected to take place later this year.

Nottingham Crown Court heard that Zac Payne (20) and Michael Morris (48) died on June 19th 2013 when Mr Payne fell asleep at the wheel of their work van while driving back to Doncaster after a night shift in Stevenage and came off the motorway, crashing into a parked van.

The previous day, Mr Payne had left Doncaster at 4.30am and driven to Alnmouth, Northumberland, arriving at 7.30am to carry out work on the railway. The expected work did not take place, so after waiting until midday, Mr Payne started the drive back to Renown Consultants’ Doncaster depot, arriving at 3pm.

On his way to the depot, he was asked to take on an overnight railway welding job in Stevenage and, in the company of Mr Morris, they set off from the depot at 7.18pm, arriving at the site at 9.47pm.

The two men then undertook welding jobs from 11.15pm, leaving the site once they had finished at 3.40am. The crash occurred at around 5.30am as Mr Payne was driving back to Doncaster.

The ORR told the court that Mr Payne, who like his colleague was employed on a zero-hours contract, was suffering the effects of fatigue, which hugely increased the risk of a traffic accident.

The court was told that Network Rail had asked Renown Consultants for an additional welding team for the Stevenage job at 7.30am on June 18th and the company had accepted the job before considering if it had sufficient well-rested employees and before speaking to Mr Payne.

The company did not follow its own fatigue management procedures, nor did it comply with the working time limits for safety critical work, such as welding, which insist there should be a ‘minimum rest period of 12 hours between booking off from a turn of duty to booking on for the next’, and it did not conduct a sufficient and suitable risk assessment of Mr Payne’s fatigue, ORR found.