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Crown Censure for Highways Agency following traffic officer’s death

Date:
8 January 2015

The Highways Agency was today (8 Jan) issued with a Crown Censure – the equivalent of a criminal prosecution – for safety failings after an experienced Traffic Officer was struck and killed by a car that went out of control on the M25.

Grandfather John Walmsley, 59, from Gravesend in Kent, was deployed with a colleague to an incident on the M25, between junctions 4 and 5 clockwise, on 25 September 2012. They were faced with a car that had spun around after heavy rain, ending up pointing in the wrong direction in a live lane on the motorway.

Mr Walmsley and his partner had towed the vehicle to the hard shoulder and the pair, along with the car’s driver who was unhurt, were awaiting a recovery vehicle.

Mr Walmsley then walked down the hard shoulder, and was using his phone, to keep his eye out for the truck when a second car went out of control on the same bend, skidded across the carriageway and hit him. He died at the scene. The driver was subsequently convicted of causing death by careless driving.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated, took the decision to deliver a Censure after identifying failures in the Highways Agency’s quarterly supervision checks at the Dartford outstation.

HSE found that despite the introduction in July 2011 by the Highways Agency of formal quarterly supervision checks of Traffic Officers by a team manager, these quarterly supervision checks were not carried out with Mr Walmsley between August 2011 and the date of his death. While the Highways Agency had in place other health and safety training and policies, including informal supervisory checks, more than half the traffic officers based at the Dartford depot had also not undergone any quarterly supervision checks.

HSE said the Highways Agency therefore did not provide the necessary supervision to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees.

The Censure was administered at Ashford Borough Council by HSE’s Regional Director (Southern Division) Tim Galloway and accepted by Mr Simon Sheldon-Wilson, Executive Director of Customer Operations for the Highways Agency.

HSE Inspector Guy Widdowson, who investigated, said:

“Mr Walmsley, who had worked as a traffic officer for seven years, was killed because he was not standing behind the safety barrier when a car crashed on the motorway. If the Highways Agency had conducted the necessary supervisory checks between July 2011 and his death the following September, it may have ensured he followed the correct safety procedures and prevented him from working the way he did.

After delivering the Censure, Tim Galloway added:

“Without proper supervision, companies have no way of knowing if their specified control measures are up to date and are being properly used. It is a vital step in controlling risks in the workplace.

“This is the case for staff who work for the Highways Agency, or indeed any other similar organisation out on the UK road network, just as much as it applies to those who work within a more traditional environment.”

The Highways Agency cannot face prosecution in the same way as non-Government bodies. Crown Censures are agreed procedures applicable to Crown employers instead of criminal proceedings.

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. A Crown Censure is the maximum sanction for a government body that HSE can bring. There is no financial penalty associated with Crown Censure, but once accepted is an official record of a failing to meet the standards set out in law. More information can be found here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/enforce/enforcementguide/investigation/approving-enforcement.htm
  3. Section 2(2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees, in particular: the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees.”

 

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