HGV drivers are frequently putting lives at risk by not following basic safety procedures when coupling and uncoupling vehicles, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned.
The workplace health and safety regulator urged drivers to apply parking brakes and use (or retrofit) warning alarms to avoid a repeat of an incident in January 2015 when a 20-year-old man died.
Road worker Dale Pentney was crushed by an HGV tractor unit which unexpectedly rolled backwards as driver Anthony Steven Smith was in the process delivering materials for repairs to the A21 in Kent.
Smith was given a suspended prison sentence at Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court on May 24. He pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and a breach of section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The court heard that Smith (48), of Philadelphia Road, Porthcawl, Newport, Wales, was an experienced HGV driver and was in the process of connecting his tractor unit to another parked trailer when it rolled backwards.
Two men working with Pentney were able to jump out of its way but Pentney was unable to do so and was trapped between the two vehicles. He sustained major head injuries and died at the scene.
A joint investigation by Kent Police and HSE found that Smith failed to apply the parking brake of the tractor unit before he left it. He also failed to follow recognised industry coupling procedures.
Smith was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment (suspended for 12 months) and disqualified from driving for 12 months.
HSE inspector Melvyn Stancliffe, speaking after the hearing brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable accident and HSE’s sympathies are extended to the Pentney family. Sadly, it shows how dangerous situations can develop very quickly. These coupling / uncoupling incidents – known as ‘runaways’ or ‘rollaways’ – are all too common.
“Many vehicles are fitted with visual and audible parking brake warning alarms, and if they are not fitted, hauliers should consider retrofitting them to their tractor units as HSE considers it reasonably practicable to do so. These alarms must never be ignored.
“Drivers must ensure they correctly apply the tractor unit parking brake before exiting the cab and then follow safe decoupling and coupling procedures.”
Nigel Pilkington, head of CPS South East complex casework unit, said: “Although Dale died whilst he was at work, it was important to charge Anthony Smith with the serious offence of causing Dale’s death by careless driving. The sentence rightly reflects the fact of his careless driving on that day.”