Stagecoach Prosecution: The Importance Of Site Specific Risk Assessment

Plymouth Magistrates recently fined Stagecoach Devon Limited £380,000 with £18,000 in costs after it pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The prosecution came about as a result of an incident on 3 October 2019 when one of Stagecoach’s drivers, David Heathfield, suffered life-changing injuries after being crushed between a reversing bus and a stationary vehicle. 

Stagecoach incident

This incident took place during the morning runout. With bus depots, the busiest times are always the mornings – usually around 5am or 6am – when the drivers arrive and take their buses out to start their routes. There is a lot of vehicle movement and a lot of pedestrian footfall with drivers coming and finding their vehicles. 

As this was in October, it was also dark at that time of the morning. The company had a parking plan that showed how the buses had to be set up the night before to make sure that they could all leave in good time the next day, but the parking layout at the depot was such that some buses had to be manoeuvred and reversed in order to get them out. It’s a relatively small depot for the number of vehicles they have, so there are a lot of vehicles that have to fit into a small space.  

At the time, Stagecoach Devon had one banksman to assist with reversing. That banksman was typically engaged in the upper part of the depot where most of the vehicles were. In the lower part of the depot, where the accident happened, it was custom and practice for the drivers to assist each other with the reversing manoeuvres – they acted as banksmen for each other, although they hadn’t been trained specifically as banksmen.  

Injuries

The injured party in this incident wasn’t in his bus but was assisting one of his colleagues to try and manoeuvre their bus out of the depot. The driver had moved forward and had hit one of the metal barriers and he was having obvious trouble getting out from in between two buses. The injured party stepped in to assist him reversing but the driver reversed into him and crushed his arm against one of the other buses. 

The injuries were significant as he suffered compound multiple fractures of his arm requiring six titanium plates and 65 metal staples between his wrist and elbow. 

CCTV footage was available and as it was a busy time of day, there were also a lot of witnesses, so a lot of statements could be taken. 

Lack of Risk Assessment

Stagecoach is a large national company, so they had a lot of procedures in place and the staff had a lot of training but what were the 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 

PROSECUTION AND LEARNINGS 

The decision to prosecute was quite straightforward. 

It was a single charge of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and within that charge was a number of items. One of the key ones was the company hadn’t eliminated or reduced so far as is reasonably practicable the need to reverse buses at the depot. Then, where reversing had to be done, the company hadn’t ensured it was done competently and safely for a number of reasons, including not enough trained banksmen, inadequate lighting and not enough space for reversing to take place safely.  

Any company that has regular vehicular movement knows that they are dealing with risks of very serious injuries and fatalities, so the risks needsto be properly controlled. There are a lot of things that you need to bear in mind with vehicle movement: eliminating or reducing reversing manoeuvres or, if you can’t do that, making sure they are done safely through the use of banksmen; reversing cameras might be appropriate; visibility issues need to be addressed; and pedestrian vehicle segregation is extremely important. 

So, make sure you have site-specific risk assessment 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.  

Information relating to managing risk and risk assessments at work can be found here.

Another article on health and safety news is available here.

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Steve Kilburn
Steve Kilburn
I initially trained as an industrial chemist working in a variety of manufacturing environments eventually moving into quality management which grew to encompass environmental and occupational health and safety management systems. I hold a Masters Degree in Health and Safety law and Environmental Law and a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Waste Management and I am a Graduate Level Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). In my spare time I enjoy reading, my favourite author is Stephen King, and listening to music, generally from the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
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