Failure to apply a full risk assessment in the purchase of a commercial vehicle wheel can ultimately lead to a corporate manslaughter charge should the item fail and cause a catastrophic injury, a leading solicitor has warned. Mike Rainford, head of business crime at the North West's leading criminal practice, Burton Copeland*, was speaking following a meeting with John Ellis, managing director of Motor Wheel Service, the independent distributor of truck and trailer wheels, where the issue of second hand contamination was raised as a matter of major industry concern.
It is estimated that over 10,000 second hand and take-off wheels entered the market in 2009, of which the large majority were sold by companies who do not possess the technical abilities or examination procedures to ascertain the history and fatigue of a wheel. In an extremely serious case, the company's field sales team were made aware of old, repainted wheels being sold as new.
Rainford said: "There needs to be greater scrutiny and control in this market sector, because the implications are huge. The process shows that if a wheel fails and causes death to either the driver or a third-party, there will be a full Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation. If the HSE then find evidence of cost cutting, gross negligence or incorrect arrangements in the purchase of the wheel, it will be referred to the police when it officially becomes a criminal investigation. At this stage it becomes more likely the case will go to court, and the company can at least expect a fine or a suspension of their licence, and the worst case scenario is a lengthy prison sentence for manslaughter." The meeting followed an earlier statement from Motor Wheel Service where they urged quality assurance managers for commercial vehicle fleets to check their supply lines as a rise in unqualified wheel sellers threatens to contaminate the market with substandard products.
Ellis continued: "At the outset we stated that the serious repercussions of purchasing a faulty wheel are huge, with warranty, liability and safety just a few major factors, but this moves this very serious industry issue into the boardroom. We are fully aware that wholesalers are diversifying into wheel supply from their core tyre business, and this threatens to bring to market an uncontrolled range of wheel products of varying standards, of which some may be dangerous. We state again that there must be rigorous checking procedures in place to ensure that wheels are fit for purpose, and if there is any doubt whatsoever, walk away. Between ourselves and Burton Copeland we will drive this issue until people sit up and take notice, and we will follow every possible route to bring this matter to the top of the industry agenda."
* Burton Copeland has been awarded top ranking in Band 1 for crime in the North West in the 2010 edition of legal directory, Chambers UK