Renown Consultants to pay £750k after double driver death

A judge has fined Renown Consultants ?450,000 and ordered it to pay ?300,000 in costs after it failed to ensure the safety of its drivers. Zac Payne, 20, and Michael Morris, 48, died on June 19, 2013, when Payne fell asleep at the wheel of a work van. The vehicle ploughed into a truck parked in a layby on the A1 and caught fire, while being driven back to Doncaster after a night shift in Stevenage.

Both Payne and Morris were pronounced dead at the scene. The previous day Payne had left Doncaster at 4.30am and driven to Alnmouth, Northumberland, arriving at 7.30am to carry out work on the railway. The expected work did not take place, so after waiting until midday Payne started the drive back to Renown's Doncaster depot, arriving at 3pm.

On his way to the depot he was asked to take on an overnight railway welding job in Stevenage and, with Morris, they set off from the depot at 7.18pm arriving at the site at 9.47pm. The two men then undertook welding jobs from 11.15pm leaving the site once they had finished at 3.40am. The crash occurred at around 5.30am as Payne was driving back to Doncaster.

The police investigation was handed over to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in 2014, which found serious and systemic failings to manage fatigue. Renown was found guilty in March following a trial at Nottingham Crown Court.  In sentencing Renown yesterday (Wednesday, May 13), Judge Goldsmark told Nottingham Crown Court that, while fleet safety policies were in place, operations managers paid "lip service" to them.

Furthermore, despite the company's insurance policy stipulating only over 25s may drive their vehicles, the judge said it was "common practice" for them to drive to and from jobs. He said senior operations managers at the Doncaster depot "cut corners", with "expediency" often overriding known safety policies, and there was a "willful blindness", when it came to the management of fatigue, driver time and distances to and from jobs. He also said that the paperwork relating to fleet-related audits did not tell the full story. "The audits did not shine a light on the way procedures were being applied."

Furthermore, he said the breaches of health and safety legislation were "systemic and long-lasting". Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways said he hoped the result would bring the families peace. "We welcome the sentence, which is the first time that ORR has prosecuted in relation to failures of fatigue management," he said.

"It shows the seriousness with which the court has taken this tragic case, and shows the fatal consequences that can occur when fatigue policies are disregarded. "We hope this has acted as a reminder to companies that safety comes first and fatigue policies should be enforced to ensure their workforce is not too tired to work." In mitigation, defence counsel Prashant Popat QC said the company recognised it had breached "very important" health and safety responsibilities and was "very sorry" for the deaths of the two employees.

Prashant told the court that the company, which trades as Renown Railway Services, was also sorry it had contested proceedings, causing further pain and anguish for the families. The firm, which employs 120 staff, had never previously been subject to any health and safety failings, said Popat. Fleet policies and procedures have been reviewed and updated since the incident and staff facilities have been developed, with the company moving into a new depot in Doncaster in 2014, which allows the use of vehicles to be better monitored.

Speed limiters have also been fitted to Renown's vehicles since 2015 and checks of telematics data are now undertaken daily.

Renown Consultants Ltd were found guilty of failing to discharge its duty under Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and was therefore guilty of an offence contrary to Section 33 of the Act.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is the UK's rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England.

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