HGV crackdown is a wake-up call for supply chain managers

24 January 2014 | Zoe Harris

Zoe Harris, solicitor at law firm WeightmansHGVs are hot on the agenda of the UK government.  

Recent statistics indicate two thirds of HGVs are being driven illegally, resulting in a high number of fatalities. A crackdown will take place later this year, when HGV drivers entering London will be fined £200 if their vehicle does not have basic safety equipment. Ministers state that if this initiative saves lives, it will also be rolled out UK-wide.

While a UK initiative is only anticipated, supply chain managers would be well advised to revisit and familiarise themselves with the following key industry guidance:

·       VOSA’s guide to maintaining roadworthiness

·       HSE’s guide on workplace transport safety

·       ROSPA’s guide of fitness to drive

Both operators and drivers of HGVs are responsible for ensuring that the vehicles used are roadworthy and meet the requirements of licensing legislation to ensure the safety of drivers and other road users.  Roadworthiness checks are therefore essential. These should include daily walk around checks by the driver, and regular scheduled safety checks by or on behalf of the operator. Both should be carried out consistently and thoroughly when due, without exception. Any findings should be recorded, all records maintained, and any defects should be remedied promptly. 

A maintenance system alone will not be sufficient for ensuring roadworthiness, as inevitably unforeseen issues will occur, some of which may go undetected until an incident occurs and the police/VOSA conduct a vehicle examination. To ensure best practice, operators will need to combine good quality maintenance practices and skills, with driver training, supervision and effective management of the system. 

While VOSA recognises that operators and drivers will not get everything right all of the time, they do expect operators and drivers to be vigilant and responsible. The penalties for, and consequences of non- compliance to the operator, and/or driver, and to the general public, can range from the inconvenient (penalty points/fine) to the very serious (operator prosecution for a health and safety offences) – regardless of whether the matter is heard in the magistrates or crown court. This could result in significant adverse publicity and the imposition of an unlimited fine. 

Perhaps understandably in these tough economic times, HGV operators are forced to cut costs and streamline their business model in order to remain profitable. However, HGV operators would be ill advised to put profit before health and safety, as it will only serve to promote an increased risk of a foreseeable accident waiting to happen. Roadworthiness checks are a reasonably practicable cost-effective tool for minimising risk and ensuring compliance. While it remains the case that the statistics might be treated with some caution - as they will depend on police criteria for stopping a vehicle and conducting an examination - they provide a clear reminder to HGV operators that ‘prevention is better than cure’. 

☛ Zoe Harris is a solicitor in the Regulatory Services Unit at law firm Weightmans

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