The limited extension of police powers, discovered by Motortransport.co.uk, was granted in 2007 when the HSE and the Metropolitan Police’s Commercial Vehicle Unit, were engaged in joint activity, linked to commercial vehicle safety. This involved police stopping vehicles and carrying out safety checks using police powers at the roadside.
Senior compliance consultant at the Compliance Bureau Ian Brooks was then chief inspector at the Met responsible for road safety. He said the exercise gave the police powers to stop vehicles on the road and assess them in the light of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
This meant that vehicles that were not in contravention of road transport regulation could nonetheless be found wanting by officers if they did not have any safety aids police considered a ‘reasonable’ risk mitigation.
This was a considerable extension of police power on the capital’s roads and one that has remained in force. “We came to the conclusion we could force retrofits in London [on the basis of health and safety legislation] because of the high risk of collision but decided not to. This was later brought in by the Safer Lorry Scheme and other measures in ways designed to be more supportive to industry,” said Brooks.
An HSE spokesman said: “The HSE granted the unit limited powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to allow the officers to follow up ‘management failings’ by conducting head office visits to check procedures and records, under the act.
“The HSE, by mutual consent, intends to cancel the limited powers granted in the future.”
Although this form of enforcement was not carried out because of pressures on resources, this granting of powers and rationale opens an ill-defined and potentially untenable situation for road transport operators in London.
Transport lawyer Jonathon Backhouse said Brook’s reading of the police’s enforcement powers would be worrying because the measures required would be open to interpretation of what is reasonable in terms of risk, cost-effectiveness and practicality.
“Road transport legislation is prescriptive and clear; health and safety legislation is very open. That is why health and safety legislation does not govern the use of vehicles on the road,” he said.
HSE additionally provided training for the police officers on load safety topics, and for a period, supported the activity, with a “seconded” inspector.