GUEST OPINION: It's just a matter of time
08 March 2011
Corporate manslaughter is back in the news with the UK's first conviction. Nigel Grainger says that while this landmark case did not involve a car driving on business, it's simply a matter of time before a fleet is taken to court.
On the 15 February 2011 the UK's first corporate manslaughter case was concluded with the conviction of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings. The company was sentenced on the 17 February 2011 and fined £385,000.
The case was brought to court because on the 5 September 2008, geologist Alex Wright was left to investigate the soil conditions in a deep trench, which subsequently collapsed, burying him under a quantity of soil and killing the 27-year old. The incident lead to an investigation by the Gloucestershire Constabulary who were supported by the Health and Safety Executive. Its case was as follows:
. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings had a system of work, but it was wholly and unnecessarily dangerous
. They had not assessed the risks correctly and had not looked to reduce any risks that were involved in the work they were undertaking
. They failed to follow industry best practice.
So how does this affect you, your business and your vehicles?
The construction industry is perceived as a dangerous place and people do die on construction sites. The HSE's provisional figures for workplace fatal injuries for the year
1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010 show that 151 workers (employees and self-employed combined) died, of which 41 were in construction, and that 393 members of the public also died, of which four were connected with construction (www.hse.gov.uk/ statistics/fatalinjuries.htm). By comparison, according to the Department for Transport, the total number of road fatalities in 2009 amounted to 2222. That figure is more than four times the total number of fatalities filed under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, or RIDDOR, which places a legal duty on employers to report work-related deaths but which, interestingly, does not include anything to do with people driving as part of their job. As most professionals in the accident/collision reduction field believe that somewhere around one-third of road incidents involve an 'at-work' driver, then it is not unreasonable to assume that around 740 deaths on the road are work-related in one form or another.
Now I am not for one moment suggesting that your business is operating dangerously and that you will be prosecuted tomorrow, but if you consider that, using the above figures as a rough estimate, people in general are four times more likely to be killed on the road than at work, and that, more pertinently in this instance, around 17 times more work-related deaths occur on the road than on building sites every year, than it's just a matter of time before a fleet will stand trial in a corporate manslaughter case.
In my humble opinion I think that any business that has not looked at the risks of driving, adopted some measures to mitigate those risks to be in a position to present a water-tight defence, and at least followed what best practice there is in existence (such as the ACFO Best Practice Guide to Employee Driving Document Checking), could find itself in a similar position to Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings.
In real terms, fleet managers, need to sit down and look at how and why they use vehicles, and ask themselves if they are using the right vehicle at the right time for the task in hand.
Nigel Grainger is a senior consultant for Fleet Risk Consultants