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Written on 23rd February 2023 by Kim Milan

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is warning mechanics and motor repairers of the dangers of working under vehicles without proper equipment. HSE’s safety warning follows concerns by the workplace safety watchdog about the  number of people who died from 2017 to 2022 within the motor vehicle repair (MVR) industry from accidents caused by working under vehicles that were not properly supported.

The motor vehicle repair (MVR) industry spans many different types of work. Each has its own safety risks to its workers, who might be working in a local repairs garage, auto bodyshop or carrying out recovery or repair at the roadside, at a customer’s house, or within another industry’s workplace such as on agricultural or commercial premises.

In each situation, employers have a legal duty to ensure their workers are properly trained and equipped for the job or task, and that the risk of injury to the employee and their co-workers or customers is minimised by a safe working environment and system of work.

Why has HSE warned about working under vehicles?

HSE’s statistics show that 21 MVR workers were killed in the five years up to March 2022. Of these deaths, 13 were caused by working under a vehicle that wasn’t properly supported. HSE says that since April 2022 it has learned of another four cases of workers being crushed to death by incorrectly supported vehicles. In addition, there have been many more similar accidents which have caused non-fatal injuries and near misses.

Their warning shares the tragic story of a man who died when the Land Rover Freelander he was working beneath rolled off the wooden blocks that he had used to prop it up. The use of the blocks and his failure to engage the handbrake had left the raised car dangerously unstable and resulted in the man being crushed.

HSE are concerned that mechanics and car enthusiasts are routinely putting their lives in danger by failing to follow HSE’s guidance for working safely under motor vehicles. Another recent HSE safety alert sets out guidance for working under vehicles with air suspension systems, following a number of serious injuries and deaths involving air suspension systems on vehicles that have failed.

HSE warns that correct equipment must be used when working under cars and other vehicles. HSE and their motor industry partners in this awareness campaign are urging mechanics and others who work around and under motor vehicles to avoid cutting corners on safety. They urge them to challenge the “this will only take me a minute” culture.

Common causes of motor vehicle repair (MVR) industry accidents and injury claims

The annual death rate in the MVR industry is 1.62 deaths per 100,000 workers. This is four times the average fatality rate  across all industries. In addition, many more MVR workers suffer serious and life-changing injury as a result of work-related accidents.

The broad range of differing tasks, vehicles and environments in motor vehicle repair work exposes mechanics and other MVR workers to multiple hazards. MVR work is also relied upon for the efficient running of other industries with their own challenging working environments, such as maintenance of tractors in agriculture and farming or HGVs in transportation. HSE emphasise that the principles contained in their MVR guidance apply across all industries to all who are carrying out any form of MVR work.

Employers and business owners must take all reasonable steps to protect their workers, customers and other visitors from injury. This means that they need to take safety seriously and demonstrate that commitment by planning, providing and enforcing safe systems of work. This involves taking action to reduce the risk of accidents which could lead to injury  by a combination of careful risk assessments, job planning, providing training, supervision and properly maintained equipment and personal protection. One size does not fit all in the MVR industry, as the risks vary depending on the type of vehicle, task and working environment. Employees should also be made aware of how they can help prevent accidents to others, such as by clearing up oil spillages, trailing wires and other hazards.

Common types of accidents and injuries which lead to MVR industry injury claims include:

  • Falls from height

Falls from height are the most common cause of workplace death and severe injury, including permanent disability from brain and spinal cord injury (SCI). Falls from height cause nearly 10% of injuries in MVR. Unsecured, inappropriate or defective ladders, the tops of vehicles or trailers, raised storage areas or mezzanine floors without correct means of access, and unguarded or unmarked vehicle inspection pits are all common causes of falling injury compensation claims.

  • Electric and hybrid vehicles

Electric and hybrid vehicles increase the risk of death or severe injury from burns, electric shock, fire or explosions. Aside from the electrical and explosive risks, workers and visitors may be unaware of the presence of a silent but moving electric vehicle. HSE also warns of the risk of injury from unexpected movement of the motor or vehicle from magnetic forces within the motors.

  • Fires and explosions

Incorrect handling of petrol when draining fuel tanks, or sparks and heat from working on inadequately cleaned diesel tanks, and inappropriate use of paints or thinners can all cause severe or fatal injury from fire or explosions during vehicle maintenance and repair.

  • Manual handling or lifting injury

Over 30% of injuries in the motor vehicle repair (MVR) industry are the result of manual handling accidents. These arise from lifting, carrying, moving or supporting heavy loads without mechanical aids or equipment, such as hoists or trolleys, or failing to train employees to lift and carry loads safely.

  • Slips and trips

Slipping and tripping accidents cause around one fifth (20%) of all injuries in the MVR industry. Oily, greasy or wet steps and floors, trailing ropes or cables, untidy or obstructed work areas and walkways, unsuitable footwear and inappropriate or damaged flooring are common causes of serious injury and claims.

  • Being struck by moving vehicles or falling objects

A further 20% of MVR injuries are caused by being struck or crushed by moving or falling vehicles or objects. Serious or fatal injuries in this category result from being hit by vehicles which have been left in gear with handbrakes off, or are started up by someone who is outside the vehicle instead of seated in the driver’s seat. HSE reminds MVR workers that moving vehicles are dangerous, particularly when reversing or moving down slopes. Injuries are also caused by vehicles  falling from inspection lifts, as well as falling tools or equipment, or objects falling from high storage areas or raised forks on forklift trucks. Business owners must also take reasonable steps to provide safe pedestrian access or reception or waiting areas for customers and other visitors to their premises.

  • Road traffic accident injuries during recovery and repair at the roadside

Motor vehicle repair and recovery workers are vulnerable at the roadside, particularly when working on the hard shoulder or emergency areas of motorways and fast moving roads. The occupants of the vehicle they are rescuing are also at risk of serious injury or death from being hit by moving traffic.

  • Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related disease

Mechanics and other MVR workers who have been exposed to asbestos dust from carrying out or working alongside repairs of vehicles with asbestos parts, such as brake linings, may suffer life-threatening asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma.

Making a claim after MVR workplace injury

The law relating to workplace health and safety and the valuable insights and guidance provided by HSE are designed to support motor vehicle repair (MVR) business owners and employers to keep their workers safe from injury. Accidents can have many contributory causes, but when unsafe workplace practises lead to death or disability, we can help the injured person (or their bereaved dependent family) rebuild their lives and recover their entitlement to substantial compensation.

If you have suffered a serious injury or bereavement as a result of an accident at work and would like to find out more about making a claim and accessing funded rehabilitation, you can talk to one of our experienced solicitors, free and confidentially, by contacting us here.