In a landmark case, railway regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has prosecuted a firm for the deaths of two railway workers due to fatigue.
Zac Payne (20) and his colleague Michael Morris (48) died on 19 June 2013 when a company van, driven by Zac, left the motorway at 5.30am and collided with a parked vehicle. At the time, Zac had been ‘at work’, mainly driving, for 25 hours.
Nottingham Crown Court was told that Zac had originally left Doncaster at 4.30am the previous day to undertake work at Alnmouth, Northumberland – a three-hour drive away. When that work didn’t materialise, he waited until midday and then drove another three hours back to Doncaster.
On arrival, his employer, Renown Consultants, offered him an overnight welding job in Stevenage. So he left Doncaster again jut after 7pm for the two and a half hour drive to Stevenage. He worked from midnight until just after 3.30am, whence the two men left site for the return journey to Doncaster. They were killed two hours later.
The ORR told the court that Mr Payne, who like his colleague was employed on a zero-hours contract, was suffering the effects of fatigue and may have fallen asleep at the wheel or experienced ‘microsleeps,’ which hugely increased the risk of a traffic accident.
It was also pointed out that the company’s insurance policy at the time prevented anyone under 25 from driving company vehicles. Apparently, this was ‘routinely flouted’ and Zac was driving at the age of just 20.
Ian Prosser, Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “The rail industry relies on a huge workforce of skilled manual staff, often working at night and on shifts. Fatigue is a real and known risk which reduces alertness and affects performance. Today’s tragic case shows the fatal consequences that can occur when fatigue policies are disregarded.”
The company was found guilty of failing to discharge its duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The sentence will be announced at a later date.