If you drive a heavy goods vehicle, truck or lorry, you probably pay close attention to your personal safety; if you employ others to help run your haulage business – whether as drivers or in your yard or other premises – you have a legal responsibility for taking every reasonable step to ensure their safety, too.
The law requires most businesses that hire other people to hold employers’ liability insurance that, as a minimum, covers claims up to £5 million. Why so much?
As the employer you have a duty of care for the health and safety of all your employees. If they have any of their property damaged, suffer an accident or become ill as a result of the work they do, you may be liable for a breach of your duty of care. In that event, you may be liable for the payment of damages. Especially where personal injury or long-term sickness is involved, those damages may be extremely high – hence the requirement for cover of at least £5 million.
The law requires you to have insurance for this amount in order to ensure that, in the event of a successful claim, your employee receives via your insurer the full amount awarded – since you may be unable to meet the claim from your own personal finances.
The official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website offers a helpful leaflet that gives details about your obligations under the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969.
Areas of danger
For all the legislation and the precautions taken by employers within the haulage industry, deaths, serious injuries, minor injuries and stress continue to be a problem.
The HSE, for example, reports that almost 60 deaths and 5,000 serious injuries occurred in the haulage and distributive industry in the past five years. A further 23,000 employees suffered accidents that were serious enough to keep them off work for longer than three days. These statistics do not include the incidence of work-related illnesses such as stress and bad backs.
An interesting finding in the HSE’s research is that the majority of fatalities occur after accidents in just four areas of work – all related to the loading, unloading or maintenance of vehicles:
- falling loads;
- falls from trucks or lorries;
- collisions with moving vehicles; and
- falling or overturning vehicles.
Risk assessments are an important way to take stock of your working environment and to take appropriate action when risks are encountered. In the language of health and safety – and of insurers – a risk is a hazard which may cause someone harm. The better you know the risks associated with your particular working environment, the better you are able to take steps to remove or to mitigate those risks.
In fact, risk assessments form part and parcel of the legislation relating to employers’ liability cover. The law makes clear that even if you failed to take action to minimise a risk, your insurer cannot for that reason refuse to pay out on a claim from an injured employee. However, if you have failed to conduct a risk assessment – and therefore failed to take the appropriate health and safety measures – your insurer may sue you to recover all or some of the amount paid in damages to your employee.
Health and safety may seem to be largely a matter of common sense – and to a great extent that is true. Your legal responsibilities – in terms of your general duty of care and your specific duty to arrange employers’ liability cover – are intended to help you ensure that safety always comes first, for both you and your employees.