Glasgow truck deaths highlight need for proper health checks

The inquiry into the Glasgow bin lorry crash, which left six people dead, has highlighted the importance of employers meeting their duty of care responsibilities. 

The fatal accident inquiry (FAI) heard how the driver Harry Clarke alledgedly “misled” his employers about his medical history.

He had passed out at the wheel of a bus on April 7, 2010, but Glasgow Sheriff Court was told a DVLA assessment form, from 2011, noted he had no history of blackouts within the past five years.

Extensive medical tests on Clarke, following the fatal collision on December 22, 2014, revealed he was most likely suffering from neurocardiogenic syncope, which has no specific treatment.

Douglas Gellan, an area manager with Glasgow City Council’s land and environmental services department, said, if the condition had been diagnosed in 2010, Clarke would not have been employed as a driver.

In response to the allegations, a spokesman for the council confirmed it had suspended Clarke on a precautionary basis pending a full disciplinary investigation.

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, meaning that they should take all steps that are reasonably possible to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing.

Alan Dark, an associate in the employment team at Shakespeare Martineau, said: “They are also legally required to assess and review the work-related risks faced by employees and by others affected by the employer’s activities.”

Employers must ensure that drivers are not only fit to work but that they carry the appropriate licence.

Danny Clarke, head of occupational health and safety at employment law firm ELAS, explained: “For anyone driving HGV and LGV vehicles, all workers must hold a Group 2 licence, which is renewable five-yearly from the age of 45.” All drivers at that age must have a medical screening before employment, and at five-yearly intervals, by law, to ensure they have no underlying problems that could present health and safety problems.

“We recommend that employers are proactive, ensuring drivers are both competent and  able to work,” Clarke added.

“Employers must have an appropriate risk assessment in place for drivers that appropriately documents potential risks as well as ways they can be minimised.”

An individual director, company secretary or manager of a company can be held criminally responsible for health and safety offences.

Employers will therefore often adopt a rigorous testing procedure, with breaches meeting with instant dismissal on a strict liability basis.

However, Dark warned: “In March, a bus driver was awarded £84,000 following his dismissal after a drug test picked up cocaine traces.”

The driver insisted he had never taken cocaine, and that the traces of cocaine picked up by the drug test must have come from his handling of passengers’ banknotes.

A subsequent tribunal said that the employer had been “wholly uninterested in exploring that sensitive but important issue” when it refused to overturn the decision on the basis of an independent test funded by the driver. “Employers will therefore need to proceed with caution when taking decisions as regards the employees’ future employment on the basis of whether they are deemed fit to drive,” said Dark.

Tipper-truck crash men bailed

Two men arrested in connection with a tipper-truck crash in Bath, that claimed the lives of four people, have had their bail extended.

The truck driver, 19-year-old Philip Potter, was arrested for causing death by dangerous driving and manslaughter by gross negligence.

Another man, aged 28, was also arrested on suspicion of causing manslaughter by gross negligence.

Both men have been released on police bail until October 26, pending further inquiries.

Phil Allen, 52, and Stephen Vaughan, 34, both from Swansea, four-year-old Mitzi Steady from Bath and Robert Parker, 59, of Cwmbran, were all killed in the crash in February.

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