This article was co-authored by Georgia Hampton-Murray, Litigation Assistant, London.
In the last few months the UK has seen stock shortages, long lead times for once easily available products and an inability for drivers to readily access fuel. Issues relating to Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, retiring drivers, and tax changes are leading to a lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.
As the government looks at ways to remedy the shortage of drivers, how might this potentially exacerbate what are already common causes of accidents and personal injury claims?
Increased road traffic accidents (RTA)
The transport secretary announced earlier this month that the training requirements for HGV drivers are set to be reduced in order to speed up the process of becoming a qualified HGV driver. HGV lorries are already potentially dangerous to other road users and pedestrians if driven at an unsafe standard, but the government’s plans may make them even more so.
Proposals to scrap the testing of towing trailers up to 3,500kgs are included in the streamlining, despite three-out-of-ten drivers currently failing this test and being deemed unsafe to tow. In addition, the recent relaxation of the number of hours that HGV drivers can drive per week (previously 56 hours per week, now 62) will mean that drivers could become overworked and/or exhausted behind the wheel.
The Annual Population Survey produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that there were 16,000 fewer EU nationals working as HGV drivers in the year ending March 2021, than in the previous year. As such, the government has cleared the path for a visa change. However, the introduction of temporary visas may result in an influx of HGV drivers on the road who may be unfamiliar with driving on the left hand side and who have received training that falls below the levels required in the UK. Prior to the UK’s exit from the EU, there was an effort to ensure that training of foreign workers was provided in their first language. Post-Brexit and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, business may have slipped in terms of providing sufficient training to foreign workers.
On 25 September 2021 the Department of Transport published a letter inviting HGV driving licence holders who no longer work in the sector, to return. The letter states that HGV drivers’ “valuable skills and experience have never been more needed than they are now”.
As a result of the combination of what could be labelled ‘quick fixes’ and ‘shortcuts’, there is a real risk of an increase in accidents and subsequent RTA claims involving HGV vehicles who already account for over three quarters of fatal collisions with cyclists in London, despite representing only 4% of London’s traffic.
The above-mentioned increase in driver hours means that HGV drivers will be sat for longer periods behind the wheel, potentially under more stress than normal as they are expected to do more and more to fill the gaps in their industry. It is well established that prolonged periods of sitting and/or stress can cause or contribute to musculoskeletal problems. As a result, we could see an increase in claims relating these types of injuries, particularly back injuries.
As many businesses remain understaffed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when lorries do eventually reach their destination, they may well be faced with unloading delays. This could in turn give rise to drivers who are not trained in the manual handling of heavy goods, assisting in the unloading of their lorries.
Further, to meet an increased demand for deliveries once more HGV drivers are on the road, businesses may take on more warehouse staff to assist in the unloading process. Potentially untrained or insufficiently trained employees (drivers or warehouse staff) may cause injury to themselves or others (employees or members of the public). HGVs are often loaded with exceptionally heavy pallets which can cause catastrophic injury or even death if not handled with great care. If a person has not been trained to perform this process to an adequate standard then the risk of these potentially serious incidents occurring increases.
The demand on and for HGV drivers is rapidly increasing as we approach the festive period. Careful consideration must be given as to how to remedy this problem. The government has responded with somewhat ‘quick fix’ and temporary solutions which may ultimately lead to a higher level of personal injury claims across a wide variety of areas.
Employers must ensure that sufficient training is provided to staff to keep their employees and the public safe.