Police forces are coming under duty of care scrutiny for the number of deaths which happen while officers are driving to and from their shifts.

Tired- or sleep-driving has resulted in the deaths of 41 officers since 2000, according to the Police Federation, which represents officers.

The Police Federation has hit out at senior officers over what they see as a failure of duty of care because more officers are killed driving to and from work than in the line of duty.

“This is happening too often. We’re saying the chief constables have a duty of care in this matter, especially if they know their officers are doing a double shift or particularly stressful shift. And then they need to look at alternatives,” said a spokesman for the Police Federation.

According to the new report road deaths while on duty have decreased 60% in the past fifty years but deaths while travelling to and from duty have increased by 140%.

The report surveyed 900 officers between December 2008 and February 2009 to determine how serious the problem of tired driving while commuting is.

Commenting on why duty of care regulations would apply, a Police Federation spokesman said: “This is because you’re left with no choice but to drive home. So the employer must shoulder some of the blame for the return journey.”

He added: “Police officers tend not to live in the area they work in so they would have a longer commute than other workers. Nature of a shift can be quite stressful, too.”

Fleet safety expert Nigel Grainger at Fleet Risk Consultants commented on the situation: “This is really rather worrying, especially as there is case law under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, with the case of HSE v The Produce Connection, which exampled Mark Fiebig. Mark died on his daily commute home from work after he had worked four shifts, one of 18 hours and three of 19.5 hours over the previous four days. This caused him to be too tired to stay awake for the journey, which caused him to collide with a lorry and resulted in his death.

“It would appear the police could find themselves in a similar situation as The Produce Connection, as excessive shift patterns could potentially cause officers to drive in a tired manner.

“According to the report, 75% of police forces are failing to ensure the safety of their staff and the general public by not ensuring the officers know of, or even have a system to manage, driving whilst in a tired state. Especially if officers could have spent the previous 12 hours behind the wheel of a vehicle as part of their duties.”

Grainger added: “A driver of a HGV vehicle cannot drive for periods in excess of 13 hours on a regular basis, so why should a police officer who drives be allowed to?”

The Association of Chief Police Officers responded to the comments by denying its members were flouting their health and safety duties.

“Where an officer has been upset or traumatised or a supervisor feels they are unfit to drive home, they are offered an alternative. This could be a train warrant or taxi or even a journey in a patrol car, if one is available.

“ACPO actively encourages all forces to comply with all health, safety and welfare requirements and to ensure the protection of all police staff from health risks whether they are night or day workers.

“However, the responsibility for compliance with health and safety legislation and any specific duties therein is for individual forces.

ACPO refused to comment futher on the number of deaths, but added: “Police officers, like all shift workers, need to be conscious of sleep patterns and the impact of shift work. In conjunction with NPIA and DfT, ACPO is preparing guidance to all forces on risks associated with driving home after shift work.”