Highways Agency censured over worker M25 death

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The government agency that manages England’s biggest roads has been censured by HSE after a worker was killed on the M25 by an out-of-control car.

Highways Agency traffic officer John Walmsley was struck as he and a colleague responded to another incident on 25 September 2012 between junctions 4 and 5 clockwise near Sevenoaks, Kent.

The 59-year-old grandfather from Gravesend was walking along the hard shoulder on this phone having towed a car to the edge of the motorway that spun 180 degrees in heavy rain. 

As Mr Walmsley kept an eye out for the recovery vehicle another car lost control on the same bend, skidded across the carriageway and hit him. He died at the scene. The driver was subsequently convicted of causing death by careless driving.

HSE took the decision to deliver a censure after identifying failures in the Highways Agency’s quarterly supervision checks at the Dartford outstation where Mr Walmsley was based.

Crown employers – government departments and their sponsored agencies, such as the prison service, the army or HM Revenue and Customs – are exempt from section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. However, they remain bound by the main parts of the act.

HSE brings a crown censure, an administrative procedure, in circumstances where a breach would, where it not for the crown immunity, have led to prosecution with a realistic prospect of conviction.

HSE found that despite the Highways Agency's introduction in July 2011 of formal quarterly supervision checks of traffic officers by a team manager, these checks were not carried out with Mr Walmsley between August 2011 and the date of his death.

More than half the traffic officers based at the Dartford depot had also not undergone any quarterly supervision checks. According to HSE, the Highways Agency therefore did not provide the necessary supervision to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees.

“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,” said HSE inspector Guy Widdowson, who investigated the incident. “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.”

The censure was administered at Ashford Borough Council by HSE’s regional director (southern division) Tim Galloway. It was ‘accepted’ by Simon Sheldon-Wilson, executive director of customer operations for the Highways Agency.

Tim Galloway added: “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.”



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