The case of an employee left paralysed when he crashed after working long hours was a warning to all UK employers that they have to take work-related road safety seriously, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said today.

A 23-year-old kitchen fitter was flung from his van after momentarily falling asleep at the wheel.  He had begun work at 3.30am, fitting two kitchens 122 miles apart.  The accident happened as he drove home at 10.15pm.

The Court of Appeal has ruled he can sue his employers for damages and has awarded him an interim payment of GBP400,000.  His final award will be reduced by 33 per cent because of his own contributory negligence in not wearing a seatbelt and knowing he was at risk of falling asleep after working 19 hours.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA Occupational Safety Adviser, said: "This case is a tragic reminder to employers of the need to manage occupational road risk.

"Between  800 and 1,000 deaths a year on Britain's roads have been linked to people being at work at the time.  More employees are killed while at work on the road than in all other workplace accidents put together.

"Employers have a clear duty to ensure the safety of their employees, who drive as part of their job, and those on the roads around them who may be affected by their driving.  They need to have people, policies and procedures in place to manage risk on the road in the same way that they manage other aspects of health and safety.

"Fatigue is a major cause of road crashes and firms should ensure that workers are not expected to drive too far in a day or spend too long on the road.

"Companies need to be sure that their employees are in a fit condition to drive and have had adequate quality sleep before getting behind the wheel.

"By adopting a systematic approach to managing occupational road risk, employers can not only make their workers safer and cut road casualties, they can also massively reduce their accident insurance and other costs."