Driving for work | Road safety charity calls on employers to take urgent action

Following a plateau in collision figures, a road safety charity has now stressed that urgent action is needed to tackle the number of work-related traffic accidents.

IAM RoadSmart are calling on employers and their drivers to “do more” to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured while driving for work.

The charity’s white paper, The Role of Business Drivers, highlighted a “worrying lack of progress in driving down the number of work-related incidents”. Of particular concern, the report revealed that the number of collisions involving people driving for business over the past decade has remained virtually static at one in four of all road traffic incidents.

In 2009, there were 5,442 serious and fatal crashes involving an at-work driver. In 2018, this figure had risen to 5,506. Contributing to these figures, RoadSmart’s report also shined a spotlight on some “alarming practices and attitudes when it comes to employers and their drivers”. Of note:

  • 49% of businesses expect employees to answer phones at any time, including while driving for work.
  • 13% of employees who drive for work, and 6% of businesses, consider the hard shoulder to be a safe place to take a work call.
  • 17% of employees admit being involved in an incident when driving for work due to taking a work call.

Indeed, the scourge of driver distraction, brought on in large part by the prevalence of smartphones, may explain the plateaued spike in accidents in this period.

RoadSmart director Neil Greig says: “Employers need to do more to drive change across their workforce and to take their responsibilities to keep staff safe, particularly when they’re behind the wheel for business”.

Employers' legal responsibilities

The charity is particularly concerned about so-called “grey fleet” drivers –  those using privately-owned vehicles for work-related journeys. This growing sector is one in which the charity stresses employers still need to exercise responsibility for workers when it comes to their health and safety. This is because if a vehicle is being driven on a work-related journey, then the employer is legally responsible for the driver’s health and safety, irrespective of who owns the vehicle.

RoadSmart director Tony Greenidge says: “The penny hasn’t dropped for many organisations that their responsibility for a grey fleet driver is exactly the same as for a company car driver”. He adds: “If companies are expecting their employees to use their own vehicles for business journeys, they must ensure they are doing so safely and with appropriate guidelines, if they are to stay within the law”.

So what can employers do to reduce road-related accidents?

The following are just some practical ways employers can meet their health and safety duties when it comes to occupational driving.

1. Address sources of distraction

Every day, more than 150 vehicles driven on company business in Britain are involved in a crash. These accidents result in more than 14,000 deaths or serious injuries annually. While there are many reasons for a crash and each has its own circumstances, according to Department of Transport figures, “failed to look properly” tops the list for the most frequently reported contributory factors – cited in 42% of all crashes.

According to road safety experts, drivers face three types of distraction:

  • Manual – looking/reaching around for lost objects in vehicles.
  • Cognitive – drivers being lost in thought and not paying full attention.
  • Visual – anything that makes drivers takes their eyes off the road, such as looking at a satellite navigation system or searching for a song on an iPod.

Hold meetings with driving employees to emphasise the dangers of distraction and reiterate the need to remain focused behind the wheel.

2. Select safe drivers

One of the best ways to reduce accident risk is to put only safe, competent drivers behind the wheel. Past driving behaviour and/or experience is likely to be a good indicator of future performance.

Check whether workers:

  • Have penalty points on their licence.
  • Have driven for work purposes before.
  • Have driven vehicles similar to the one they will be driving for you.

Make these checks part of your recruitment and selection process.

"If one of your employees is killed, for example while driving for work, and there is evidence that serious management failures resulted in a 'gross breach of a relevant duty of care', your company or organisation could be at risk of being prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007."

HSE

3. Devise a driving policy

It’s good practice for all organisations to have a written safe driving policy in place, which should outline all prohibited behaviours while driving. Best-practice rules should include never looking at or answering a phone while driving, even if using a hands-free device. Your policy should also specify the disciplinary action that may be taken should workers violate these rules.

Once you have developed a robust policy, processes will need to be in place to ensure it is followed and enforced.

If an employee is involved in an accident, a written safe driving policy and proof of associated training can help to protect your organisation.

At Ellis Whittam, our fixed-fee Health & Safety service for businesses includes a tailored Health & Safety Policy skilfully drafted by a qualified consultant, plus access to a catalogue of interactive and engaging e-Learning courses, including a module on Driving Safety, covering driving awareness, pre-journey checks and safety on the road.

4. Invest in technology

Information gathered through telematics may prove very effective in reducing the likelihood of collisions. Frequent hard braking as well as speeding are often good indicators that vehicles aren’t being appropriately driven.

Consider installing GPS tracking devices in your vehicles. Real-time location and speed information will give insight into any dangerous habits your drivers may be engaged in.

5. Don’t unwittingly encourage dangerous driving

Alarmingly, 9 out of 10 company car drivers admit to speeding on motorways, and nearly half say they break the speed limit on most of their journeys. This naturally increases the likelihood of accidents occurring and should prompt employers to reflect on how they may be contributing to dangerous driving habits.

If a heavy workload, over-ambitious journey times, or unrealistic targets are causing employees to put their foot down, your practices are likely to be putting workers at increased risk. Take a step back and review your arrangements and the demands placed upon staff, and liaise with them to create plans that work operationally without compromising safety.

Not confident in your compliance?

At Ellis Whittam, we help organisations to simplify health and safety management through unlimited, fixed-fee support. Our commercially-minded service enables employers to identify sensible, proportionate solutions to their health and safety challenges and helps to ensure compliance with all relevant laws and regulations so that you’re not left exposed to risk.

To discuss your specific requirements and find out how Ellis Whittam can take on the role of your legally-required competent person, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.