Road accidents warrant closer HSE involvement, MP urges
The long-running debate about the HSE’s ‘limited’ remit in respect of work-related road traffic accidents was back on the agenda last week, as MPs discussed how the Government could help reduce the number of driving deaths.
Speaking in the Commons on 20 June, Labour MP Meg Munn referred to figures on work-related deaths and injuries provided by Mike Penning MP, under-secretary of state for Transport, in response to a recent parliamentary question.
She told the House: “He (Mr Penning) said 24 per cent of serious injuries and 30 per cent of road deaths in 2010 could be linked to work-related road traffic accidents. As there is no requirement to report work-related deaths [on the roads], that is likely to be an underestimate. Even using those figures, we are talking about, on average, 11 deaths and 105 serious injuries every week.”
Questioning why deaths and injuries resulting from such accidents are not counted as workplace deaths and injuries, she lamented that a “full picture” is not being provided, adding: “We do not know enough about why and how people at work die on the road, or how many members of the public are killed by people who drive for a living.”
Turning her attention to one serious health problem, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – a breathing condition that can stop people from getting proper restful sleep, resulting in tiredness during the day – she pointed out that medical experts estimate that between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of lorry drivers are affected by the condition, and other sleep problems.
“There are 400,000 large-goods vehicle drivers in the UK, which means a minimum estimate of 40,000 affected drivers,” explained Ms Munn. “The number of road accidents, with the resulting deaths and serious injuries, can be substantially reduced by increasing the number of drivers who are diagnosed and successfully treated for this condition.”
She pressed the Government to ensure that “the HSE’s expertise is brought to bear”, and said organisations that employ drivers as part of their undertaking could contribute significantly to improvements in road safety by screening drivers for health issues in the workplace.
Responding to the MP’s concerns, Maria Miller, under-secretary of state for Work and Pensions, stressed that a number of agencies have a role in enforcing and regulating on road safety matters, not least the Police, as well as the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and the DVLA, which, among other responsibilities, leads on the medical fitness of drivers.
She also underlined that drivers can experience a broad range of health conditions that could affect their capabilities, such as diabetes, heart conditions and migraines, and this means employers and employees should think “more generally” about their health.
“Given the broad range of health issues involved, it is difficult to set out a definite requirement for each one,” said the minister. “We have to remember personal responsibility and the fact that the legal and moral obligation of all drivers to drive safely and to report any health condition to their employer exists in law.
“OSA is treatable when identified, and we need to ensure that employers are aware of the condition and that they have processes in place to monitor all sorts of health conditions, including OSA, in employees who drive as part of their work.”
With employees who drive for business more likely to be killed at work than deep sea divers or coal miners, driver safety is a vital business consideration.
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