Stagecoach Devon Fined £380,000 After Driver Was Crushed
Lessons to be learned include having site-specific risk assessments
Bus company Stagecoach Devon has been fined £380,000 after driver David Heathfield was crushed between a reversing bus and a stationary vehicle. The Health and Safety Executive, which prosecuted the firm, said the employee of Stagecoach Devon Limited was working at the company’s Torquay depot on the morning of October 3, 2019.
Due to space limitations, buses often had to reverse to be able to leave the depot in readiness for the day’s work. The sole banksman, who would direct vehicles, was occupied at the top of the depot where most buses were parked. As a result, it became custom and practice for the bus drivers at the front of the depot to reverse without a banksman, or to assist each other when reversing, despite not being trained as banksmen, the HSE said.
The injured employee, who was caught between a reversing bus and a stationary vehicle, suffered compound multiple fractures of his arm requiring six titanium plates and 65 metal staples between his wrist and elbow. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Stagecoach Devon Limited failed to put a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in place.
The risk assessment should have identified the risks inherent in the bus parking layout and action could have been taken to remove the need to reverse, or mitigate the risks from reversing. For example, changing the parking layout, providing a sufficient number of trained banksmen for peak times, and improved segregation of vehicles and pedestrians, said the HSE in a statement released after the hearing.
At Plymouth Magistrates Court, Stagecoach Devon Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £380,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,000.
The injured bus driver was at the court to hear the outcome of the case. After the hearing, Barry West, regional organiser of the RMT union, said: “It was clear to all who knew Dave that he was a loyal and hard-working employee who has had his life prematurely put on hold and his career ended abruptly.
“His injuries were life-changing and the six fractures in his lower arm have affected his ability to drive, eat and left him severely incapacitated from undertaking many day-to-day essential activities or any hobbies. The impact of this accident has meant he has a lifelong disability, it has affected him mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially.
“The workplace safety arrangements were wholly inadequate at the Torquay Depot and, I hope that this outcome will mean that Stagecoach Bus will take notice of the outcome but most of all start to listen, engage effectively and constructively to us and work with the RMT union to make the environment that our members work in a much safer place for all.
“Lessons must be learned and actions taken, no matter how many policies, procedures any employer may have, enabling them, monitoring them, auditing them and ensuring compliance is absolutely essential.”
A spokesperson for Stagecoach Devon Limited said: “Safety is our absolute priority and our thoughts continue to be with our former employee, David Heathfield, who was injured in the accident at Torquay depot in October 2019.
“We are deeply sorry for what happened and today we have taken the earliest opportunity to formally accept the charge brought against the company.
“Since the accident, we have assisted the Health and Safety Executive in its investigation in any way that we can, and we have fully implemented improvements. We will continue to take steps necessary to protect the health and safety of our people.”
HSE Inspector James Collins has commented: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers in the safe system of work. If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life-changing injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.”
“Stagecoach is a large national company, so they had a lot of procedures in place and the staff had a lot of training. But we always look at underlying causes as well as immediate causes and this is one of those situations where the underlying cause falls back to not having a proper site-specific risk assessment.
“A proper site-specific risk assessment would have picked up that there were inherent risks from the way that the buses were parked. Reversing wasn’t minimised there, and because reversing wasn’t minimised and they only had one banksman for a very busy period, it was foreseeable that you’d need more banksmen support. People were stepping up to help out and, while staff were trained generally, they weren’t trained to be banksmen. So, they shouldn’t have been put in a position where they felt they had to act in that way.”
James continued with more advice for managers, saying, “Make sure you have site-specific risk assessments if you have a vehicle or logistics depot. If you’re a big or national company, it’s not good enough to have a generic risk assessment; it needs to be site-specific, because every location is going to have its own peculiarities, its own layout and its own infrastructure, which all mean that the risk assessment has to be specific to that site. That is key. When you come to a management level undertaking, it is all about making sure you are picking up the major risks and mitigating them properly.”