The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has prosecuted a contractor after two men suffering with fatigue died in a road traffic accident.

Zac Payne, 20, and Michael Morris, 48, died on 19 June 2013 when Zac fell asleep at the wheel of his work van while driving back to Doncaster after a night shift in Stevenage. His employer, Renown Consultants Ltd, had instructed the men to take on an extra job following a request from Network Rail without considering whether it had sufficiently rested employees.

Nottingham Crown Court was told Zac, 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.

The court was told that Network Rail had asked Renown for an additional welding team for the Stevenage job at 7.30am on 18 June and Renown had accepted the job before considering if it had sufficient well-rested employees and before speaking to Mr Payne.

Renown did not follow its own fatigue management procedures, nor did it comply with the working time limits for safety critical work, such as welding, which insist there should be a ‘minimum rest period of 12 hours between booking off from a turn of duty to booking on for the next’, and it did not conduct a sufficient and suitable risk assessment of Zac’s fatigue.

He was also permitted to drive, despite the company’s insurance policy that stipulated only over 25s may drive their vehicles, and heard evidence from other members of staff that the policy was routinely flouted.

ORR found that Renown’s policies and procedures were particularly inadequate because employees were on zero hours contracts, and these contracts created an obvious incentive for employees to volunteer for work when they were too tired as they were only paid for the shifts they worked. This was made worse as Mr Payne, and other trainee welders, were reliant on Renown for securing the qualifications they needed to qualify as welders, which discouraged them for refusing shifts.

Renown Consultants was found guilty of failing to discharge its duty under sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act and regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and was therefore guilty of an offence contrary to Section 33 of the Act.

This is the first time that ORR has prosecuted in relation to failures of fatigue management. Sentencing is expected to take place at the end of the year.

‘The rail industry relies on a huge workforce of skilled manual staff often working at night and on shifts,’ Ian Prosser, chief inspector of railways, said in a statement. ‘Fatigue is a real and known risk which reduces alertness and affects performance.

‘[This] tragic case shows the fatal consequences that can occur when fatigue policies are disregarded. Safety comes first and ORR will continue to monitor and take action where companies do not take sufficient care to ensure their workforce is not too tired to work.

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