CALL US: 020 8619 0939

Skills Training Centre: Want to Avoid Expensive Compensation Awards?

Date: Thu, October 09, 2014 | Author: Paul Buey | Permalink

The current revenue situation facing most local authority highway staff responsible for day to day routine maintenance has never been so critical.

The combined efforts of severe winters, flooding and reduction in budgets have made the challenges faced reach unprecedented levels.

These issues are compounded by a change in society’s approach to the perceived standards of the networks. Public expectation is that roads, footways and cycle routes should be in a well maintained state and if not then highway authorities will be taken to task through a heightened claims culture.

So how can highway authorities respond? As part of having robust asset management arrangements they need to ensure that they inspect and respond to defects in a structured and defined manner. The costs of administration and settlement of claims normally falls directly on the local authority who self-fund most of the usual trips, slips and vehicle damage events which are reported and for which compensation is sought.

When looking at the costs incurred in claims handling, settlements to claimants and legal costs the estimates vary enormously. However, even at a very conservative figure of £100 million per annum, if claims can be robustly defended then this sum can be reinvested in the highway network and assist in dealing with the maintenance backlog.

Highway Authorities across the UK have a duty to maintain their networks. In England and Wales the Highways Act 1980 Section 41 imposes this duty. Similar duties apply elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Most claims relate to the failure to carry out this duty. However the Act (Section 58) provides a defence where if authorities can prove that they have taken reasonable arrangements to maintain their network then a claim would be denied.

The guidance produced in ‘Highway Risk and Liability Claims -A practical guide to Appendix C of The UK Roads Board Report ‘Well Maintained Highways: Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance Management’ is that Inspections should be undertaken by suitably trained staff under a scheme administered by the Institute of Highway Engineers(IHE). City and Guilds 6033 has been accredited by the IHE and is structured to deliver the training in two distinct modules.

Candidates are given an initial full day’s training on the hazards and risks associated with carrying out Highway safety Inspection duties and the procedures necessary to afford them adequate protection. The second module delivered over three days is designed to develop a clear understanding of the legal need to inspect and what information can and should be gathered. The course then covers in detail those aspects of the Code of Practice relating to inspection.  It covers roadwork theory and basic highway construction, identification and risk assessment of defects, legal protocols, record keeping and monitoring or repairs.

Each local highway authority whilst seeking to follow the code of practice will have individual special arrangements for particular parts of their network.  The preliminary work put in place examines these and offers advice on any variations which may reduce the ability to successfully defend a claim. No inspection regime is ever going to produce a fully functional network and therefore good asset management should be in place but together it will allow authorities to demonstrate a significant degree of reasonableness so necessary to avoid expensive compensation awards.

Not only are budgets drained of unnecessary amounts but staff time both for front line and legal employees is eaten up in the administration of the claims.

Two clear arrangements will allow this defence to be challenged.

Firstly by not conducting sufficiently regular inspections to ensure the safety of the highway and secondly by not having repaired or made safe the identified defect in a reasonable timescale.

The 6033 City and Guilds scheme is administered and operated by Skills Training Centre Ltd. Successful candidates are enrolled on the Register of Highway Inspectors maintained by IHE on behalf of the Highway Inspectors Board and are valid for a period of five years with a reassessment after that time.