Friday May 29, 2020
For the road ahead

Work at Height Regulations

Why Do ‘Work at Height Regulations' Apply to Lorry Drivers?

Legal advice from Mick Towns, Towns Needham Solicitors

One would think that the ‘Work at Height Regulations 2005' would only apply to workers such as steeplejacks, roofers, scaffolders, builders and other workers who may be at risk of falling from height. Not so, these Regulations also apply to lorry drivers and on a day to day basis. What is ‘work at height'? Work at height is defined as:

  • Work in any place, including a place at or below ground level;
  • obtaining access to or egress from such place while at work, except by a staircase in a permanent workplace,
  • where, if measures required by these Regulations were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.  

Accordingly height can be any height at all.

The purpose of these Regulations is to try and prevent injuries (and deaths) caused by falls at work. The United Road Transport Union, being a transport union one would expect that the majority of injuries sustained by its Members would be from road traffic accidents. However, the majority of accidents occur during the course of loading and unloading or at depots or delivery points.  

If a Member is climbing into or out of his cab or the back of his wagon, he is obtaining access to or egress from his place of work and he is at height, that is, he is above ground level and is at risk of a fall. These Regulations therefore come into force and an employer is required to take certain steps to reduce the risk of a fall and injury. The duties placed on employers can perhaps be summarised as follows :-

  1. The employer should take steps as far as reasonably practicable to prevent their employees falling.
  2. The work at height should be properly planned and organised.
  3. The work at height should take account of weather conditions.
  4. The employee should be trained and competent.
  5. The place where the work at height is done should be safe.
  6. The equipment should be appropriately inspected.
  7. Suitable equipment should be provided to help prevent a fall.

It follows on that the steps and handles which are provided to help a driver climb in and out of his cab should be in good and safe condition. Drivers these days do seem to have adequate steps and handles to climb in and out of the cab but it still happens that suitable steps and handles are frequently not supplied or fitted to help a driver climb in and out of the back of the lorry; I have never understood why not and there must be hundreds, if not thousands of accidents every year which occur as drivers climb in and out of the backs of their lorries. Things are certainly improving but we still get claims because suitable equipment such as fold down steps or some other alternative step and handle system has not been provided or is inadequate.  

Some years ago a member of this Union was employed as a car transporter driver. He had reversed a motorcar up onto the top deck. There were no witnesses as to what happened but he was found on the ground by the side of the car transporter. He had sustained fatal injuries. The Union asked us to pursue a claim for his widow and family. An investigation was conducted. The employers had placed upright posts with wires spanning the gap between the posts to try to provide some sort of protection to a driver working on the top deck but at one point which was immediately above the place where the Member had been found lying on the ground was a gap of about five feet wide and which was not protected by any wire and post system. This accident happened before the ‘Work at Height Regulations' came into force and so we could not rely on the Regulations to help us pursue a claim. At the end of the day the claim succeeded but if the ‘Work at Height Regulations' had been in force at the time, I am sure that the case would have been settled a lot quicker. Members of this Union, especially tanker drivers and car transporter drivers, have to work at some considerable height. A man on the top deck of a car transporter will be some seven or eight feet above ground level. A man on the catwalk of a powder tanker will be at some thirteen/fourteen feet above ground level. If a fall happens because of a breach of these Regulations, that breach enhances the chances of a claim succeeding. Of course, it would be much better if the Regulations were complied with in the first place and the accident had never happened.

A word of warning, however, these Regulations also apply to the employee! This is specifically covered by Regulation 14. The duties imposed on you as the employee are as follows :-

  1. You should report to your Supervisor any activity or defect relating to work at height which you know is likely to endanger the safety of either yourself or another person.
  2. You should use any work equipment or safety device provided to you by your employer for work at height in accordance with any training and instructions given to you concerning the use of that work equipment or device.

It is no use an employer complying with the Regulations if the employee does not use the equipment correctly as trained or as instructed.  

These Regulations are relevant to the road haulage industry; they are sensible and proving to be effective in reducing falls and if such accidents do occur the Regulations are helpful to us as the Solicitors pursuing the compensation claims for the injured Members.  The ‘Work at Height Regulations 2005' are a useful and sound piece of legislation.

Mick Towns, Towns Needham Solicitors

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