A bus company has paid a high price for failing to act on numerous warnings about one of its drivers who went on to kill two people in a crash.
Midland Red, part of the Stagecoach Group, must pay £2.3 million for allowing ‘fatigued’ driver Kailash Chander behind the wheel. The firm also has prosecution costs of £7,214 after pleading guilty to two offences contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Phil Medlicott, Managing Director of Midland Red, said after the trial in November 2018: “Safety is and always will be our first concern, and we take our responsibilities extremely seriously. We have made it our continuing priority to work very closely with the authorities to help fully understand and learn detailed lessons from what has happened.
“We cannot turn back the clock in this case, but we have sought to do everything possible to learn lessons and ensure that this kind of accident does not happen again.”
This incident highlights the crucial need to implement and enforce a robust driver safety policy. To do this effectively businesses need the best risk management tools.
Fleet Risk Audit
Midland Red has carried out a thorough risk audit following the tragedy after the trial heard the bus company “failed to follow policy”. Judge Paul Farrer QC also said warnings about Chander were “not enforced, and almost immediately ignored”.
Concerns were raised by the company’s telematics system and in April 2015 a driver trainer suggested Chander “may have been capable of driving to the satisfactory standard, if properly rested”. There were customer complaints in the lead up to the deaths of schoolboy Rowan Fitzgerald, who was on the bus, and pedestrian Dora Hancox.
A Fleet Risk Audit is one of the most important tools a company can deploy to identify risk gaps before and after a serious incident. An audit helps to reduce reputation damage by reviewing a fleet’s existing policies, processes and working practices. This in turn provides a current view and risk rating that the business faces in the event of a serious collision and what mitigation can be deployed to reduce risk and improve driver safety.
Mr Medlicott said: “Following the accident, our priority has been to put these matters right. We carried out a comprehensive review of all of our policies and have made several key changes. This means we have in place a significantly more robust safety regime than is required by law.”
Midland Red now takes a tough stance on driver health after medical evidence showed Chander may have been suffering from undiagnosed dementia at the time of the crash. The judge said: “A moving bus is a potential lethal piece of machinery and [Midland Red] should have been making sure their drivers were fit to drive at all times.”
Driving is a dangerous activity with more than a quarter of all collisions likely to involve a commercial or grey fleet driver, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Routine medical testing and pre-medical reviews for older drivers can help reduce this risk. However, medical checks should be fair and non-discriminatory as temporary illnesses, such as migraine and stress, can affect an employee’s fitness to drive.
Midland Red plans to go above and beyond statutory rules to ensure their drivers are medically fit to work. Mr Medlicott said: “This includes more frequent medical testing and a pre-medical review for older drivers, with appropriate checks being carried out every six months rather than on a statutory annual basis.”
This means employees aged 45 to 65 will receive medical checks every five years. Drivers aged 70 and over will receive a medical check every six months.
Controls on working hours
Midland Red is also addressing driver fatigue after the trial heard Chander was working in excess of 70 hours a week.
The trial heard that:
– Midland Red was warned that Chander’s driving capabilities deteriorated when he was fatigued, however, he was allowed to work on October 3, 2015.
– Judge Farrer said that the trainer suggested Chander should not be working excessive hours as his ability to drive seemed to get worse when he was “fatigued”.
– A fact-finding trial in September found that Chander was found to have been driving dangerously.
– On the day of the fatal crash, the judge said that Chander was seen by another driver who commented on how tired he looked.
Judge Farrer said at sentencing: “Midland Red (South) was well aware that Chander was working long hours and the quality of his driving was diminishing. And if he did, the consequence would be the deterioration of his driving.”
Chander, then 77, now 80, was employed as a relief driver but was allowed to work an average 72 hours a week in the three weeks before the fatal crash. Midland Red is addressing this by ensuring relief drivers do not work more than 40 hours a week, including travelling to and from work.
The company is also ensuring feedback on a driver with a recommendation not to work too many hours is relayed to the local manager, operations director and managing director.
Mr Medlicott said: “We have put in place stronger measures to control working hours and have improved communications with our operational teams. We have also provided additional training to all drivers and strengthened the application of our accident reduction processes.”
Midland Red is now making more referrals to its driving school and reviewing incidents and collisions in detail to help minimise risk. For more information about a Fleet Risk Audit or how your company can manage risk, call 03330 113113 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.