One of the worst things that can happen to any fleet manager is to hear that one their vehicles has been involved in a serious accident, and that a colleague has been killed or seriously injured as a result. Forget blame and costs: it is suffering and loss that must be considered.
Although the road network in the UK is among the very safest in the world, fatal accidents still account for too many deaths each year, and inevitably some of these cases involve fleet vehicles in the course of their normal everyday activities. Employee deaths arising from business travel outnumber all other causes of at-work death.
This Guide considers how a fleet manager should set fleet policy, and implement support systems, to minimise the possibility of his vehicles or colleagues becoming part of these chilling statistics.
Dealing with road safety is not like most other aspects of fleet management on two main grounds.
Firstly, there is a strong legal and regulatory background to road safety that fleets simply cannot ignore.
Secondly, this is an area where the main focus is not on cutting costs. There are of course very significant cost implications around any road traffic accident but the primary concern must be to avoid injury or death to employees and other road users. Road risk has been widely recognised as one of the major long-term issues facing fleet operators.
A wide range of businesses have been set up to help fleets manage occupational road risk and many existing suppliers have added new services to address the issues. This has been driven, substantially by new legislation; in particular the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, which permits the prosecution of businesses, not just individuals, that have failed to adopt and follow reasonable standards of safety and risk management.
There are a range of other regulations as well, with the typical list cited by many in this field including the:
- Road Traffic Acts;
- Construction & Use Regulations;
- Health & Safety at Work Act;
- Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER); and
- many more including the advice given in the Highway Code.
Then there are the impacts of the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) publication ‘Road Deaths Investigation Manual’. This standardises the approach all police forces should adopt when a major accident, particularly one involving fatalities, occurs.
Such incidents are now recognised as potential scenes of crime and the approach recommended is to investigate and resource to the same level as a reported homicide.
Building a sound policy
The key to a successful policy is to understand that on-road risk must be appropriately managed. The business needs to understand, from director level down, its obligations and its risk profile.
A robust Health & Safety policy will be invaluable, since ‘driving at work’ is now fully recognised within the duty of care obligations employers must show to employees and other road users. As a minimum though an employer should be able to demonstrate that:
- an appropriate risk assessment has been conducted;
- written procedures to deal with any material risks identified;
- regular reviews and further risk assessments are carried out at reasonable intervals; and
- there is an audit trail reflecting the actions taken by the employer.
This approach must, together with all related activities, be fully documented and be seen to be an integral component of the business’s management review processes.
The policy must, of course, apply to all business driving, whether in a company car, or any other vehicle, such as a van, rental or pool car, bought using a cash alternative.
A useful starting point
The government provides guidelines for the starting process. The basics are set out in clear terms, with case studies and examples, in the publication ‘Driving at work – managing work-related road safety’, which is downloadable from the website of the Health & Safety Executive at www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.htm
Since this is the primary government backed guidance for this area, it must be considered essential reading for anyone involved in the fleet policy.
driving on business should be made aware that they retain absolute responsibility under general road traffic laws and that they must observe the law, whether it be driving within speed limits or simply checking tyre pressures.
The law recognises that the employer cannot constantly look over the shoulder of every driver. So it is vital that employees are regularly communicated with reminding them that they are the drivers first, and employees second, when they are on the road.
Points to consider
While the following list is far from exhaustive it demonstrates some of the key areas that should be addressed when establishing a robust road risk management policy:
- appoint a director to be responsible for occupational road risk;
- make sure every driver receives a copy of the HSE booklet ‘Driving at work – managing work-related road safety’ and ‘The Highway Code’;
- ensure the policy is set out in writing, is readily accessible and clearly states who is entitled to use company controlled cars or vans and the need for employees to submit whatever travel returns the employer requires, especially mileage returns to identify, potentially, high-risk cases;
- ensure that anyone driving on the employers’ business is properly licensed for the types of vehicle to be used, for instance cars, vans of different weights, towed trailers and mini buses etc;
- ensure all employees are fit to drive, providing advice where appropriate such as eyesight tests;
- confirm that employees using their own cars for business must maintain the correct insurance;
- confirm the policy on the use of mobile phones, including hands-free kits, while driving;
- confirm the policy on drinks and drugs while driving;
- ensure there are rules to limit the maximum driving time and that drivers are encouraged to take regular breaks or arrange overnight accommodation if appropriate;
- ensure all vehicles, including employees’ own cars, are serviced, as a minimum, in line with manufacturers’ recommendations, and are roadworthy by requiring MOT certificates to be provided every year;
- study and record all accident reports (in conjunction with underwriters/brokers/accident management service providers) to identify any patterns indicating particular problems.
Most of these issues should also be included within the driver handbook, as an immediately available reference. A requirement for drivers to sign for receipt of the handbook, and to confirm that they have read and understood it, is certainly best practice.
Ignoring or paying too little attention to occupational road risk could considerably increase the potential for financial and reputational disaster.
The trick to getting it right is to implement sound and understandable policies and procedures ensuring they are communicated clearly to stakeholders, keep accurate records, think ahead and take proper advice when in doubt.
Being on top of occupational road risk need not be difficult nor expensive, but it does take a serious management resource and genuine on-going attention.