Vehicle safety is a responsibility that the construction industry can no longer afford to ignore

20/05/2013

The construction industry came under fire from the Traffic Commissioner for London and the South East last week after six construction companies appeared before him at Public Inquiries in a single month, following unsatisfactory maintenance investigations by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) .

In each case, VOSA identified a number of shortcomings in the companies’ vehicle maintenance systems. Specifically, these related to pre-planning of vehicle maintenance, driver defect reporting, below average MoT pass rates and prohibition notices issued to the vehicles in respect of mechanical defects.

In four of the cases, the Traffic Commissioner took regulatory action against the operator. One company was suspended from operating any vehicles for seven days, three companies had the number of vehicles they are authorised to operate reduced, and directors at all of the companies were ordered to undertake Operator’s Licence awareness training.

The Traffic Commissioner’s comments come just weeks after news broke that 50 per cent of cyclist deaths in road accidents in London involved construction vehicles. They add further weight to the perception that, whilst those involved in the industry are extremely careful about adhering to health and safety standards when on construction sites, or up on scaffolding, they take far less care when it comes to complying with vehicle safety requirements.

But why do construction businesses find it so challenging to comply with the regulations? At the heart of the problem is a widespread lack of awareness of what is expected.
In my experience, the main culprits tend to be those within the construction, scaffolding, plant-hire and waste-removal industries.

What these businesses have in common is that the goods, materials and equipment being transported are owned by the operator of the vehicle and that the operation of large vehicles is an ancillary but essential part of their activity. Where this is the case, a business is only required to hold a Restricted Operator’s Licence, as opposed to a Standard Operator’s Licence (which is required to transport other peoples’ goods).

Restricted Operator’s Licence holders are not required to employ the holder of a Certificate of Professional Competence (“CPC”), or nominate a CPC holder as the transport manager on their Operator’s Licence, and there is therefore often a lack of awareness and/or understanding of what is actually required of them in order to achieve compliance.

When applying for any Operator’s Licence, companies sign a declaration that all of the requirements in relation to the operation of vehicles will be satisfied.  These include ensuring that vehicles are fit and serviceable, any defects are promptly reported by drivers, vehicles are not overloaded, drivers work within the permitted hours and tachograph records – which track a vehicle’s speed, the distance travelled and the hours worked by a driver – are correctly kept, and that all vehicle maintenance records are retained for at least 15 months.

Unfortunately, Restricted Operator’s Licence holders frequently fall foul of these minimum standards, and these shortcomings are quickly identified by VOSA either during roadside checks or fleet inspections or following an MoT failure.

Education is therefore key. The onus is upon the Operator’s Licence holder to know what is expected of them and to then take steps to implement and monitor appropriate systems to ensure, and fully document, compliance.

I urge all operators to familiarise themselves with the undertakings recorded on their Operator’s Licence . They should also review their current compliance management systems and, where necessary, amend these systems.  If operators are in any doubt as to what is required of them or whether their existing systems are sufficient to enable them to satisfy the minimum standards expected, they should seek advice.

The Traffic Commissioner has reiterated that those in the construction industry must treat the operation of vehicles with the same commitment to safety as is afforded to work on construction sites.

Operators must therefore take appropriate steps to address this or risk the potentially severe consequences of non-compliance. The six recent cases dealt with by the Traffic Commissioner in London and the South East should serve as an urgent warning that Operator’s Licence compliance must not be ignored.

For further information, contact the JMW Transport Law Team on 0161 828 1849.

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