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Motor Trade Legal News

Advice Regarding Inspection Pit Safety

MILS Solicitors assist a motor trader in a recent HSE prosecution which has shed light on the duties of businesses with regards the assessment of the risks surrounding inspection pits.

Facts of the case

A Family owned multi-site franchised dealer had an inspection pit at one of their sites that ran the length of one of their garages. The pit was used for commercial vehicles and was capable of being used for HGV inspections as well as the inspection of other vehicles where a lift was not practical.  The pit was approximately 5 foot in depth.

As a business, they were aware of their duty to employees generally and undertook best practice whenever possible. They were aware of the usual risks of working in and around inspection pits and particularly they were aware of HSE guidance on the same. They assessed these on a regular basis, working with an external consultant to assist with risk assessments and management generally.

It was regularly necessary to manoeuvre vehicles across the pit for inspection as well as access to the rear of the property. This was a common occurrence but had not been identified or assessed as part of the general assessments. On one occasion a vehicle was manoeuvred over the pit whilst another member of staff was in the pit cleaning. Whilst the vehicle was being driven over the pit the member of staff within it tried to exit the pit and became caught under the vehicle. Due to the extent of the injuries the matter was reported to the HSE and a prosecution ensued.

Issue and decision

The issues in the case were two-fold.

The first issue was whether the business had complied with their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by assessing the commonly identified risks, or whether the risk of the activity undertaken was so obvious that it should have been identified.

The second issue was the calculation of the fine. The turnover of the business was such that guidance fixed the fine at approximately £1.5 million. However, as the business was a franchise, the business model was such that this level of turnover did not translate into a similar level of profit. The court had to decide whether the fine should be based on the turnover or the profit.

The court accepted that manoeuvring a vehicle over a pit was such that the risk of injury to other employees within the pit was a risk that should have been considered as part of a businesses regular H&S assessments.

However, as a result of the legal arguments put forward by MILS Solicitors, with the assistance of Keith Morton QC, the court accepted that the company’s turnover was only one aspect used in calculation of the fine.  The court held that a fine of £120,000 was appropriate in the case and the franchised dealer was given 3 years in which to make the payment.

So, what does this mean for Businesses?

Whilst HSE Guidance is provided to assist businesses in managing the risks to employees these are not exhaustive lists.

Any business with inspection pits, particularly where there is a requirement for vehicles to be manoeuvred over them either for access or during inspection/MOT need to assess the risks of injury to staff within the pits and put in place working practices to remove and reduce these risks as much as possible.

It is likely that there will always be a limited requirement to manoeuvre vehicles over inspection pits. However, this should be minimised at all costs. Where it remains necessary, the business should put in place clear working practices to minimise the risks presented and ensure that these are followed.

Don’t forget, should you need specific advice on this or any other subject, as a MILS  member you can contact us at any time on 0207 244 6790.