A recent civil insurance case has demonstrated the importance of safe systems of work and delivery planning for hauliers.
Clearly, such systems are critically important for operators to fulfil their obligations under health and safety laws, but the case also demonstrates the financial benefits of having robust systems in place to allow companies to defend their position in the event of compensation claims being made. The case of Rhys Alan Williams versus (1) McMurrays Haulage Ltd (2) WM Morrison Supermarkets (2018) serves as a reminder to haulage companies to ensure not only that all parties effecting a delivery are aware of their responsibilities, but also that systems are in place to ensure the safety of all workers and customers in the haulage industry.
The claimant in this case was a senior employee of a well-known supermarket chain. He was part of a team responsible for, among other things, receiving deliveries of equipment at stores. On the day in question, he opened a gate to the yard of a supermarket, and an HGV driven by an employee of McMurrays Haulage drove in.
The claimant stood at the end of the gate, against a wall and shortly afterwards, the rear of the trailer on the truck collided with that wall, trapping his right arm and causing a severe crushing injury to his forearm and hand. The claimant was not wearing the hi-vis jacket he had been issued with, which he accepted in written evidence, and which he knew he should have been wearing. Throughout the incident he was talking on a mobile phone to a colleague.
The court made a detailed review of the training and procedures in place and it is evident that WM Morrison provided substantial evidence that it had training in place. The court accepted that the claimant was made aware of and properly trained in the fairly simple requirement that allowed him to do the job safely.
Further, WM Morrison could rely on him as a senior and intelligent employee to follow these requirements. It is also worth noting that the court felt that physical warning signs were not necessary to alert the claimant to the obvious risk, which in any event was one the claimant was well aware of from his training.
It was held that none of the alleged faults or acts of negligence on WM Morrison’s part were made out. There had been no breach of duty by WM Morrison in providing the claimant with a key to the yard and permitting him to use it to open gates and admit vehicles.
His training included the procedure for opening gates safely and the need to stand in a safe place when in the vicinity of moving vehicles. Furthermore, the court found that the primary and overwhelming cause of the accident was the negligence of the McMurrays Haulage driver in manoeuvring his vehicle in such a way that he caused it to intrude into the space in which he knew the claimant had been standing, having taken no steps to check, or ensure, that he had moved away from that space.
The extent to which the claimant in this case had contributed to the accident by standing in an obviously unsafe place, was not because of any fault in WM Morrison’s procedures or training, but because he failed to follow those procedures and training during circumstances that put him at risk. Given these findings, the case serves as a reminder to haulage companies that various steps are required when effecting deliveries to customers, not least to ensure their drivers know where pedestrians are.
WM Morrison was successful in its defence of this contribution claim because it had well-documented regimes in place. It is worth operators considering and reviewing what documents and training they have in place for effecting deliveries.
Operators should be asking themselves: are there risk assessments of regular delivery sites, and method statements about the steps to take at these sites? It is often impossible to produce relevant risk assessments for every site visited by drivers, but regular delivery sites can be considered and hauliers should also seek to have a robust reporting structure in place.
Drivers must be encouraged to report any site specific concerns or near-miss incidents to the transport manager or health and safety manager to allow operators the opportunity to consider any risk presented and how to manage that risk. Operators also need to ask whether their drivers are trained on dynamic risk assessments to help them identify potential hazards as they arrive at a new site to make a delivery.
It is important to remember that the delivery areas of retail sites can be fraught with hazards. While people are often focused on the obviously “risky” sites, such as construction sites or quarries, careful attention must also be paid to retail sites as well.
Also, those premises receiving the deliveries should not be complacent in thinking that their staff and delivery companies automatically know what they are doing. Incidents on retail sites are all too common because so often there are a number of pressures surrounding such deliveries that can lead to staff seeking to be helpful to get the delivery done quickly, but things can and do go wrong.
Therefore, having clear written safety procedures and effective communication between office staff and drivers, and also customers and drivers is imperative.
By Vikki Woodfine and Anne Sutcliffe
. Anne Sutcliffe is an insurance specialist at DWF LLP and Vikki Woodfine is head of road transport and logistics at law firm DWF LLP.