As the cuts start to bite even further and we are repeatedly advised of the need to do more with less as we are all in this together we need to remember the important issue of driver fatigue.
Let us not forget the distress and devastation the Great Heck rail crash caused in 2001.
Or that some 6 years later in Michael Eyres v Atkinsons Kitchens & Bedrooms ltd (2007) an employee who suffered serious injuries after crashing his employer’s van when he fell asleep at the wheel was found to be one third responsible for the accident on the basis that he must have realised the risk of falling asleep. Remaining liability was attributable to his employer, who had caused the employee to be awake for 19 hours, and who had done nothing to guard against the risk of injury.
However driver fatigue can just as easily apply to police officers.
The Court of Appeal ruled in R v Bannister [2009) that the fact that a police driver is an advanced driver or has attained some other specialist driving skill is irrelevant when deciding whether that driver has driven dangerously under section 2A(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1991. The court ruled that taking into account the driving skills of a particular driver is inconsistent with the objective test of the competent and careful driver set out in statute.
The case makes it clear that even when responding to an emergency call or when engaged in a pursuit police officers must not themselves drive dangerously as defined by section 2A.
Therefore before budget cuts further exacerbate fatigue of the less officers required to do more there has to be comprehensive research done on driver fatigue.
If we are to do more with less then surely this is where occupational medicine should have an input to protect employers and employees.
But a research body that has funded some of the most important studies in the field of occupational health and safety in the last 20 years has announced it is to wind down because of a lack of financial support in the current economic climate.
The British Occupational Health Research Foundation (http://www.bohrf.org.uk) is a small charity that depends on financial contributions from sponsors for its core funding. This week, the Foundation’s chair, Sir Bill Callaghan, announced that given the financial situation, it will not be seeking any further sponsorship income “in 2012 and beyond”.
Sir Bill emphasised that all existing commitments to fund projects – including an evaluation of a pilot fit-for-work service, a study of the effectiveness of employee assistance programmes, and a review of health risks in the waste and recycling industry – will be honoured.
The Foundation, which would have celebrated its 21st anniversary in May this year, has as its mission to bring employers and employees together to produce research that will contribute to good employee health and performance at work.
Looking back over the work that it has funded and facilitated, Sir Bill said there is “much to be proud of – in particular, the rigorous evidence-based reviews. . .that have provided practical guidance, with a sound scientific base, for employers that has been of benefit to employees, as well as the bottom line”.
On behalf of the BOHRF’s Board of Trustees, he thanked all the sponsors and researchers who have contributed to its work, adding that the Board will continue to oversee the Foundation’s work “and consider the appropriate next steps as it winds down its activities”.
Dr Luise Vassie, IOSH executive director of policy, said: “IOSH has always been impressed by the quality of BOHRF’s research. The Foundation has contributed significantly over the years to the health of people at work, and to helping cut the costs of occupational ill health.
“It’s why IOSH has provided sponsorship to BOHRF since 2002 and is happy to continue doing so. So it’s hugely disappointing to hear that BOHRF has been unable to secure the level of financial contributions required to take on new research projects. Research in the area of occupational health plays such an important role in helping our economy.”
So withut research from BORF should we adopt the approach taken in South Africa? http://www.eyewitnessnews.co.za/Story.aspx?Id=79762
Quite frankly there will nt be the resources to do so. And therefore it is neccessary to ask – if occupational health won’t look at driver fatigue then who will.
After all the dangers of sleep disorders amongst police officers are an issue I have previously blogged about
Do we know, undertsand and apply lessons learn from the effects of shfit working on driver fatigue amongst police officers?
If there is not unequivocal answer to them, then as we face the prospect of more for less – we have to ensure that the research is done and its lessons applied before we expect officers to cover more distance with less support.