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March 2020 - Van driver fatality highlights the issue of driver fatigue

The Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP) is calling for fleets to adopt fatigue policies after Renown Consultants is found guilty of health and safety breaches.

Renown Consultants was found guilty of breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act in relation to the deaths of two drivers it employed at Nottingham Crown Court, last week.

Zac Payne, 20, and Michael Morris, 48, died following a crash at around 5.30am on June 19, 2013, when Payne fell asleep at the wheel of a company van while driving back to his employer’s Doncaster depot after a night shift in Stevenage.

The vehicle veered off the motorway, crashing into a parked van.

He had been on the road since the 4.30am the previous morning, when he had driven to Alnmouth, Northumberland, to carry out welding work which didn’t materialise.

During the return journey to Doncaster, he was allocated a further job in Stevenage and, collecting Morris to help, set off from the depot at 7.18pm before arriving at the site at 9.47pm. Both men started their work at 11.15 pm, completing it at 3.40am before heading back to Doncaster.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) told the court that Payne was suffering the effects of fatigue and may have fallen asleep at the wheel or experienced what were described as “microsleeps”.

Paul Hollick, co-chair of the AFP, said: “This is the first prosecution for van driver fatigue of which we are aware and it is a very worrying case.

'Van drivers and their passengers are among those most at risk when it comes to work-related road risk'

“There was a complete breakdown of fleet management health and safety. The driver had been at work for more than 24 hours, creating a hugely risky situation that should never have occurred.”

Hollick says that there were multiple failures in this case.

“Before accepting the second job in Stevenage from a customer, the company had not checked whether it had sufficient well-rested employees or followed its own fatigue management procedures, for welding as well as driving,” he said.

“Also, Mr Payne should never have been behind the wheel of the van in the first place. He was only 20 and the company’s fleet insurance policy stipulated a minimum age of 25. This is a fundamental failure of management.”

A further issue highlighted by the ORR was that because both men were on zero hours contracts and reliant on Renown for securing welding qualifications, there was an incentive to accept any work that was offered.

“Fleets operating zero hours contracts need to be especially careful to not create situations where employees feel pressured into accepting work when they know they are tired, and when their own procedures are likely to be flouted,” added Hollick.

“What this shows is that the elements of any fleet health and safety policy that deal with fatigue should not be ignored under any circumstances.

“Tired drivers are dangerous drivers, both to themselves and other road users, and the consequences can be tragic, as this case shows.”

AFP advice suggests that all organisations operating company cars and vans have a fatigue policy in place within their fleet and company policies that it is applied across the business.

Hollick said: “As this example shows, the application of the policy of vital. This is a subject that we take very seriously and are here to offer help and advice to any fleet professionals who feel they need assistance in managing this area. It is all about preventing needless deaths like these.” 

Renown Consultants will be sentenced at a later date.

Ian Prosser, chief inspector of railways, said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Payne and Mr Morris.

“The rail industry relies on a huge workforce of skilled manual staff often working at night and on shifts. Fatigue is a real and known risk which reduces alertness and affects performance.

“Today’s tragic case shows the fatal consequences that can occur when fatigue policies are disregarded.

“Safety comes first and ORR will continue to monitor and take action where companies do not take sufficient care to ensure their workforce is not too tired to work.”