Last reviewed 17 July 2018

Car park owners, and any contractors operating car parks on their behalf, have a responsibility to ensure that car parks are safe to use. Mike Sopp looks at the potential hazards, the impact of safe design and use, and the benefits of inspection and monitoring.

Many organisations operate car parks. This can be as part of the organisation’s overall commercial activity or as a utility for employees.

Car parks can present many hazards. People in the vicinity of the car park can be hit by moving vehicles or crushed against other objects by vehicles. Crime can also occur in parking areas, both against vehicles and against individuals who use the car park as well as those who may work in such establishments.

Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and subsidiary legislation, car park owners and any contractors operating car parks on their behalf, have a responsibility to ensure that car parks are safe to use.

Car park hazards

Car parks owned or used by an organisation can range from simple ground-floor level parking areas to multi-storey or underground complexes.

Whatever the configuration or type provided, there are a number of hazards associated with car parks including:

  • over-parking and site congestion resulting in dangerous manoeuvres, blocking of pedestrian routes, etc

  • lack of properly segregated and/or poorly marked parking areas without clearly defined pedestrian routes

  • carelessly parked cars that obstruct pedestrian routes and reduce the visibility of other drivers and pedestrians

  • lack of safe, segregated routes from the parking area to the workplace (including poor surfaces, lighting, etc)

  • security concerns of crime against individuals using or working in car parks as well as vehicle-related crime

  • poor maintenance of car park equipment and facilities resulting in equipment failure and accidents

  • fires, particularly in underground or large multi-storey car parks.

In extreme cases, failure to manage car park facilities can result in serious incidents and even fatalities. In one notable case, a large supermarket chain was fined £250,000 after a horizontal swing barrier smashed through the windscreen of a customer’s car as they drove into the supermarket car park, resulting in the driver’s death. It was found that the barrier had not been secured and drifted open.

Safe design and use

Safety by design should always be the preferred method of controlling risks in car parking areas. This can be achieved by following best practice requirements.

For complex parking areas, guidance such as the Institution of Structural Engineers’ publication Design Recommendations for Multi-storey and Underground Car Parks and/or the British Parking Association guide New Build Car Park Guidelines would be referred to by designers.

The latter puts emphasis on the need to consider the location of the car park and the potential this may have for attracting unauthorised access for criminal intent or even suicides.

Although fires in car parks are rare, there is concern in the fire safety industry that new vehicles (including electric vehicles) are creating increased fire risks and/or fire spread, as seen in a recent fire in Liverpool. It is therefore essential that when designing a car park, fire safety requirements of Approved Document B are taken into account.

For less complex car parks, HSG 136: Workplace Transport Safety — An Employers’ Guide is a useful document. This provides some general principles about safe parking areas. It recommends that parking areas should:

  • be clearly sign-posted, well lit and easy to find

  • allow clear visibility for both drivers and pedestrians

  • have firm, stable, level, well-drained surfaces that are not slippery

  • have clearly marked parking areas with safe walking areas

  • be as close as possible to where people need to go.

The use of physical precautions (eg bollards and barriers) is recommended to prevent vehicles crossing into walking areas, while “drive-through” parking is advised to reduce the need for reversing, combined with a one-way traffic flow system.

Where this is not possible, the guidance states that arrangements should encourage reverse parking so as to reduce the number of vehicles reversing into traffic flow.

Ensuring that vehicles are driven safely and parked correctly can be problematic to control. However, where necessary rules should be developed and staff should be made aware of these rules. These may include:

  • setting speed limits within the car park area

  • allocating parking bays to specific employees

  • demarcating parking areas specifically for visitors.

Rules and procedures need to be communicated to all users. This can be achieved by the use of appropriate signage in the parking area (for employees and visitors alike) or by the internal means of communication utilised by the organisation.

It is recognised that one of the main hazards in car parks is over-parking. Clearly thought needs to be given to usage of the parking area and the maximum number of vehicles allowed. As mentioned above, it may be necessary to carefully control numbers and allocate parking spaces to specific persons. This could be achieved by the use of proximity readers to only allow access to authorised users.

It is worth noting that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also recommends that the employer develops a “travel plan” to reduce demand on car parking. This can include measures such as encouraging the use of other means of transport and car sharing.

However, in doing so, the employer should give consideration to the security of, for example, bicycles left by employees in car park areas.

Personal safety

Those using and working in car parks (eg parking attendants) can be vulnerable in them. In terms of the latter, employees have a legal obligation to consider the safety of any employees working in a car park and should undertake a risk assessment for such activities. A number of hazards may have to be considered including:

  • lone working and the potential for assault or robbery

  • weather extremes and the potential for ill health

  • being struck by vehicles if moving around the car park

  • emptying parking ticket machines of cash.

Appropriate control measures should be adopted for the above, depending on the level of risks determined by the assessment process.

Criminal activity is common in some car parking areas with crimes involving theft from vehicles or, more seriously, theft and/or assaults on persons. As a way of combating such crimes, the Association of Chief Police Officers, in conjunction with the British Parking Association (BPA), launched the “Park Mark: Safer Parking Scheme” in 2004.

The scheme aims to provide guidance to owners, operators and developers of parking facilities (new and existing) on how to establish and maintain a safe and secure parking environment and where this is deemed to be appropriate they can be awarded the “Park Mark” .

Two keys areas highlighted by the scheme guidance are the need to control the perimeter to the car parking area so that it acts as a deterrent and provides clear demarcation for users.

The second key area is the management of the car park. British Parking Association guidelines note that “operators and owners have to demonstrate the facilities are well managed and maintained”.

Guidance in the scheme provides useful information on how to improve security in parking areas that the organisation may use. This is based upon a number of aspects including:

  • the provision of suitable lighting to reduce dark areas

  • management systems that review procedures for safe operation

  • maintenance procedures for any security-related items (eg CCTV)

  • the arrangement of parking areas to reduce obstructions and aid surveillance

  • controlled pedestrian and vehicular access and egress routes

  • good and clearly visible signage relating to the safe use of the car park

  • suitable and sufficient surveillance arrangements (eg CCTV, patrols, etc).

Inspection and monitoring

For complex car parks, the Institute of Civil Engineers recommends making use of a life-care plan for each car park structure “to enable inspection, maintenance and repair to be implemented efficiently so that adequate safety is maintained in an economic way”.

The HSE provides a number of recommendations and suggest that regular physical inspections should be undertaken at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. This is to assess how effectively site practices are being adopted and to ensure outdoor environmental conditions are not creating any hazards.

It also recommends that as part of the monitoring process, users of the car park should be engaged with to ascertain any problems they encounter when using the car park (that the physical inspection may not necessarily identify).

In general terms, when inspecting car parks, those with responsibility should ensure that:

  • all markings and signage are clear and in good condition

  • height/width restrictions are in good condition

  • horizontal or vertical barriers (if fitted) are working correctly

  • car park users are parking vehicles correctly and following rules

  • pedestrians are using routes appropriately

  • there are no issues of over-parking.

General good housekeeping is also important because if obstructions are left blocking traffic routes, or if driving or walking surfaces become littered, slippery or too dirty, they may cause significant risks to health and safety.

All ancillary equipment should be subject to appropriate inspection and maintenance procedures. This may include, for example, automated gates or barriers, lighting, CCTV, payment machines.

Summary

Car park owners and/or operators should ensure new or existing car parks are meeting all relevant best practice requirements.

A risk assessment should be completed on the car park taking account of how the car park area is used; access requirements, location, physical features (benchmarked against best practice) and management procedures.

Fire safety in car park areas should also be subject to a risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Personal safety of car park users should be given consideration and can be included in the main risk assessment or completed as a separate security risk assessment.

Car park safety is not just about the installation of physical measures. Good management is also essential to ensure appropriate procedures are utilised for both ongoing use and maintenance.

Further information