The Highways Agency has been issued with a Crown Censure – the equivalent of a criminal prosecution – for safety failings after an experienced traffic officer was struck and killed by a car that went out of control on the M25.
Grandfather John Walmsley, 59, from Gravesend in Kent, was deployed with a colleague to an incident on the M25, between junctions 4 and 5 clockwise, on 25 September 2012. They were faced with a car that had spun around after heavy rain, ending up pointing in the wrong direction in a live lane on the motorway.
Mr Walmsley and his partner had towed the vehicle to the hard shoulder and the pair, along with the car’s driver who was unhurt, were awaiting a recovery vehicle.
Mr Walmsley then walked down the hard shoulder, and was using his phone, to keep his eye out for the truck when a second car went out of control on the same bend, skidded across the carriageway and hit him. He died at the scene. The driver was subsequently convicted of causing death by careless driving.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated, took the decision to deliver a Censure after identifying failures in the Highways Agency’s quarterly supervision checks at the Dartford outstation.
HSE found that despite the introduction in July 2011 by the Highways Agency of formal quarterly supervision checks of traffic officers by a team manager, these quarterly supervision checks were not carried out with Mr Walmsley between August 2011 and the date of his death. While the Highways Agency had in place other health and safety training and policies, including informal supervisory checks, more than half the traffic officers based at the Dartford depot had also not undergone any quarterly supervision checks.
HSE said the Highways Agency therefore did not provide the necessary supervision to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees.
The Censure was administered at Ashford Borough Council by HSE’s regional director (southern division) Tim Galloway and accepted by Simon Sheldon-Wilson, executive director of customer operations for the Highways Agency.
HSE Inspector Guy Widdowson, who investigated, said: “Mr Walmsley, who had worked as a traffic officer for seven years, was killed because he was not standing behind the safety barrier when a car crashed on the motorway. If the Highways Agency had conducted the necessary supervisory checks between July 2011 and his death the following September, it may have ensured he followed the correct safety procedures and prevented him from working the way he did.
After delivering the Censure, Tim Galloway added: “Without proper supervision, companies have no way of knowing if their specified control measures are up to date and are being properly used. It is a vital step in controlling risks in the workplace.
“This is the case for staff who work for the Highways Agency, or indeed any other similar organisation out on the UK road network, just as much as it applies to those who work within a more traditional environment.”
The Highways Agency cannot face prosecution in the same way as non-government bodies. Crown Censures are agreed procedures applicable to Crown employers instead of criminal proceedings.
A Highways Agency spokesman said: “John is always in our thoughts and deepest sympathies remain with his family, friends, and colleagues.
“While the Health and Safety Executive investigation was prompted by John’s death on duty in September 2012, the details of the case brought against the Agency relate specifically to a failure to provide the necessary supervision of traffic officers based at Dartford outstation in accordance with our own procedures and to ensure the health and safety of all our employees.
“Accepting and respecting this judgment, we have taken steps to ensure that our procedures are appropriate to the health and safety of our staff, and that we all follow those procedures. We remain absolutely committed to the health and safety of our people, learning from this experience.”