Weekly dilemma: health and safety in vehicles

I work for a courier company. During the recent hot weather, we had three quite serious injuries where our drivers received sunburn to their right arms. One had first-degree burns. This is happening when they are driving with their arms resting out of the driver’s door window. What possible control measures can we employ to prevent such incidents? Should we ensure that the drivers keep their windows up? The vehicles are not equipped with air conditioning.

You need to consider what the vehicles should be identified as in terms of health and safety. If the vehicle is essentially the employee’s place of work, the employer has general duties under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of its employees. This will include providing, among other things, a safe workplace. The vehicles can also be considered to be work equipment and will fall within the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Ensuring drivers don’t open their windows is going to be impossible to achieve in practice, unless you disconnect electrical switches or fuses or physically remove the window winders. The problem with this solution is that it may well create a secondary issue of thermal discomfort. In reality, it will prove to be extremely unpopular with your employees and may lead to some of them taking matters into their own hands.

In the long term, air conditioning is clearly the best alternative for your employees’ health. The problem is the cost factor if your company is not at the stage of fleet renewal, where you can negotiate with your fleet supplier.

Alternatively, you could supply your employees with long-sleeve shirts as part of their uniform (which again may prove to be unpopular) or follow the lead of several local authorities and provide sun cream to limit the effects of the sun on the exposed parts of the body.

Dave Collins, senior health and safety consultant, DWF Solicitors

Each week we ask the experts to answer your legal dilemmas. If you have a legal question or dilemma, e-mail Dawn Spalding

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