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Case Study : Scaffolding Company at Leeds Public Inquiry

A long established scaffolding firm operating ten large goods vehicles were called to a goods vehicle public inquiry. 

Background of the Case

The company had been in existence since the 1970s. The founding director had recently entered into semi-retirement and was in the process of handing over to his daughter who was by then the director with day to day management responsibilities. There were about 50 people working for the company and if the operators licence were terminated then the business would have to close.

The reason for the call to public inquiry was that there had been a large number of goods vehicle prohibitions and the MOT first time pass rate was poor. DVSA (VOSA) had carried out an investigations and the conclusion of their report to the Traffic Commissioner was "unsatisfactory". There had also been historic problems with overloading of goods vehicles and insecure loads. The Traffic Commissioner decided that he needed to hold a public inquiry to decide whether it was necessary to revoke or suspend the operators licence or to reduce the number of the vehicles in the fleet.

How We Helped 

The director of the scaffolding company contracted us for legal advice about eight weeks before the public inquiry was due to take place. This meant that we had plenty of time to deal with as many problems as possible in advance of the public inquiry. We arranged a time to attend the company's premises to meet with the directors, managers and staff.

We spent about four hours at the operators premises. This began with a lengthy discussion with the directors and managers with responsibility for the transport operation of the business. The key activity of the business was scaffolding and the transport operation formed only a small, but very much vital, part of the company's overall activities.

In fact, it seemed that this was part of the overall problem. The company was scaffolding orientated (and scaffolding comes with its own set of regulations and health and safety practice). Transport law compliance was possibly not getting the same level of focus. Those driving the goods vehicles considered themselves scaffolders first, they were not in the mindset of professional drivers.

We had a very good look around the company's premises and their systems and procedures. We took photographs as useful evidence for the public inquiry - pictures really can tell a thousand words. We took away a box full of the company's records from the last fifteen months for further analysis back at the office.

A week or so later we produced to the company our detailed findings including a host of recommendations and enhancements to their existing systems. This included instruction on how to analyse PMI records (6 weekly inspection records) to look out for problems and possible trends. As a result of analysing the MOT history we identified significant shortcomings on the part of their maintenance contractor. Our recommendation was that they should urgently consider changing their maintenance contractor.

The company arranged for the RHA to come in and give various drivers and managers some intense training on operator licence law and compliance with transport regulations. We arranged for all vehicles to have laminated notices displayed in the cabs about the pay load capacity of each vehicle to avoid overloading and instructions on how to spread the load to avoid axle overloads. Also information on nearest weighbridges and the individual weights of scaffolding items so drivers could calculate the weight of loads. Steps were taken to ensure loads were properly secured with the correct number and positioning of straps.

We also drafted a drivers handbook which gave written instructions on all sorts of legal compliance matters. The daily inspections system was tightened up and a process of regular quality control and auditing was implemented.

On our recommendation, the directors had a meeting with their maintenance contractor and gave them a final written warning about their workmanship. At the same time the company obtained quotes from other maintenance contractors and the question of whether to move their maintenance was kept under review.

The Public Inquiry

In advance of the public inquiry we prepared a ring binder of evidence. This included a mixture of copies of letters, maintenance records, the drivers handbook, health and safety documents, emails, invoices, training certificates and photographs. We prepared a detailed written submission to the Traffic Commissioner which we sent with the ring binder a few days before the public inquiry. This gave the Traffic Commissioner the chance to read our case and see our evidence before the hearing had even started.

At the hearing itself we presented the managing director and the main manager dealing with transport as witnesses. We asked them questions during the public inquiry hearing to lead them through their evidence and refer to and explain documents as they went along.

The Traffic Commissioner appeared to quickly form a positive impression of the operator and its director, manager and staff. He accepted our case which was that the operator had not set out to break the regulations on purpose. Rather the company had been doing business for so long without being in trouble before and this meant that they had become out of touch with modern law and good practice. It was a case of them taking immediate steps to get themselves quickly back into line. The Traffic Commissioner fully accepted that this is what had happened so decided not to take any action against the company, save for a warning.

Outcome of the Public Inquiry

The only action taken was a warning by the Traffic Commissioner.



IF YOU NEED HELP OR ADVICE

If you would like to speak to a public inquiry expert on your own situation, then please call us free of charge on 0800 1777 522. We'll be very pleased to hear from you and happy to talk through your case.

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