The Highways Agency has been issued with the equivalent of a criminal prosecution following the death of an experienced traffic officer on the M25.
A Crown Censure was issued this week for safety failings after grandfather John Walmsley, 59, from Gravesend in Kent, was struck and killed by a car that had lost control between junctions 4 and 5 clockwise on the M25 on 25 September 2012.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified failures in the Highways Agency’s quarterly supervision checks at the Dartford outstation which meant the Agency had not fulfilled its legal obligation to provide the ‘necessary supervision to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees’.
In a statement the HSE said that despite the Highways Agency’s introduction in July 2011 of formal quarterly supervision checks of traffic officers by a team manager, these 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,’ the HSE found.
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.
‘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.’
Mr Walmsley and a colleague were called out to attend to a car that had spun around after heavy rain in a live lane on the motorway. The driver was unhurt.
After towing the vehicle to the hard shoulder Mr Walmsley walked up the hard shoulder and was using his phone when he was struck by a second car that went out of control on the same bend.
He died at the scene. The driver was subsequently convicted of causing death by careless driving.
A Highways Agency spokesperson said: ‘John is always in our thoughts and our deepest sympathies remain with his family, friends and colleagues.
‘While the Health and Safety Executive investigation was prompted by John’s death on duty in September 2012, the details of the case brought against the Agency relate specifically to a failure to provide the necessary supervision of traffic officers based at Dartford outstation in accordance with our own procedures and to ensure the health and safety of all our employees.
‘Accepting and respecting this judgment, we have taken steps to ensure that our procedures are appropriate to the health and safety of our staff, and that we all follow those procedures. We remain absolutely committed to the health and safety of our people, learning from this experience.’
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.’