The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has had to answer to the HSE over the issue of two Crown censures, both arising from fatalities involving the use of workplace transport.
While the provisions of the HSW Act apply to Crown bodies, including departments and agencies, Crown immunity means such bodies are excluded from the provisions for statutory enforcement, including prosecution and penalties.
However, while criminal proceedings cannot not be taken against the Crown, administrative procedures, known as Crown censures, are used in circumstances where it is HSEâ€™s opinion that, but for Crown immunity, there would have been sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction in the courts.
The HSEâ€™s investigations into the two workplace transport incidents brought to light significant systemic shortcomings in the corporate arrangements for assessing transport risks in the MOD. The MOD was censured under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA).
The first fatality occurred on 22 May 2003. Corporal Thomas Eirian Rees died as a result of injuries he sustained when he was crushed between two armoured personnel carriers being unloaded from a low loader.
In the second fatality, which happened on 1 May 2004, Lance-Bombardier Robert Wilson was crushed between a Multiple Launch Rocket System vehicle and a large lift truck at Albemarle Barracks, Northumberland and died from his injuries.
Both soldiers were on duty at the time of these incidents and the activities were subject to the full application of the HSWA as they took place in Great Britain.
Dr David Snowball, the HSEâ€™s Director for Yorkshire and North East Region, comments:
â€œThe vehicles involved in these incidents are heavy and powerful and Army personnel have to work closely alongside them. The risk of personal injury is therefore potentially high. In bringing these censures, HSE wishes to emphasise to the MOD, and other employers, the importance of assessing, managing and controlling the operational risks arising from the use of workplace transport.â€
The use of workplace transport claims about 50 lives every year and causes over 1,500 major injuries. The total cost to the British taxpayer from such incidents is over Â£200m per annum.
Further information on workplace transport safety can be found at: www.hse.gov.uk/workplacetransport/index.htm.