Workplace Vehicle Accidents

Employers warned to control risks from workplace vehicles

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have issued a warning to employers that they must have systems in place for ensuring pedestrians and vehicles can move safely around the workplace after a man was knocked over and dragged more than 26 metres by a fork lift truck.

The man sustained injuries to his pelvis and legs in the incident. It happened in the company car park, where the man was returning to work when he was knocked down by the truck. The driver, unaware of the collision, continued driving the truck for another 26 metres with the man stuck under the front until someone caught the driver’s attention. The company concerned was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay costs amounting to £4,000 as a result of the incident. The HSE inspector said that the incident could have been avoided if the company had organised the workplace so that vehicles could operate safely in a set area.

The incident has highlighted the dangers of pedestrians working alongside heavy machinery such as fork lifts and is yet another statistic of a work related vehicle injury that could have been easily prevented. Everyone is aware of the dangers on the public roads, but caution seems to go out of the window in a supposedly safe area such as a car park. What is often failed to be taken into account is that the risks to health and safety are just as high in these enclosed areas as out on the roads. Vehicles moving around yards or delivery areas are just as dangerous as the average family saloon on the road. Whereas on the road it is the Council’s duty to make sure that the road is as safe as possible, on private land the responsibility lays firmly at the feet of the employer to maintain a safe environment for everyone – pedestrians and vehicle operators alike.

The introduction of designated pedestrian areas and clear warning signs informing pedestrians that heavy machinery is operating in the area are the minimum requirements that should be enforced. Indeed, this legislation has been set in stone, with Regulation 17(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which state that ‘every workplace shall be organised in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles can circulate in a safe manner’. It’s there in black and white, and any employer that ignores this is ignoring their fundamental duty of care towards their employees and other visitors onto the premises. As such, this sort of incident can easily be regarded as a ‘preventable accident’. Those injured in such incidents have every right to claim compensation for their injuries.

Many people often accuse the HSE of being dogmatic and draconian in their enforcement of health and safety issues, but without some kind of a watchdog authority, it seems that common sense tends to fly out of the window. If it has to be that business needs constant reminding of the potential for man and machine to come into conflict, then rigid enforcement of the regulations is justified. Otherwise more people will suffer injuries at work that are entirely preventable. Common sense tells you that having heavy, very manoeuvrable machines like fork lift trucks operating in the same area as pedestrians without any safeguards is a recipe for disaster. If employees suffer injury as a result of these safeguards being absent, then it is the employer’s responsibility to compensate injured workers and visitors and to face up to their duty of care in these circumstances. Obviously, prevention is better than cure and in an ideal world, there would be no need for an authoritative body enforcing such legislation. But it isn’t an ideal world, fork lift trucks and pedestrians will go on sharing the same space and accidents will inevitably happen as a result. Until such time as all workplaces are segregated and the problem is removed, compensation claims for injuries sustained may be the only way to drive the point home.

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