In 2003 the Health and Safety Executive released a publication called “Driving at Work – Managing Work Related Road Safety.” This publication issues guidance that vehicles are to be classed as a place of work and therefore fall under the same Health and Safety legislation as a physical workspace.
The fact that cars are classed as a place of work, along with several pieces of road traffic acts and legislations means that employers are obliged to develop Health and Safety policies to minimise the risks to the health and wellbeing of employees whilst driving a vehicle for business purposes. The development and effective implementation of these policies is a company’s “Duty of Care.”
Whilst these pieces of legislation went some of the way to forcing companies to implement effective policies, it wasn’t until 2008, when the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force that pressure was really put on companies to act. These pieces of legislation makes it easier to prosecute companies for health and safety failures that lead to a person’s death. These pieces of legislation are especially relevant for fleet managers as the biggest cause of at-work fatalities arises out of employees driving for business purposes. Every week around 200 road deaths and serious injuries involve drivers on work related journeys.
In order to ensure compliance with the Act employers are required to regularly carry out risk assessments that seek to identify the risks that their employees are exposed to. Once risks have been identified, businesses need to put suitable mitigation strategies in place that minimise or remove the risk. These risk management plans need to be created, communicated and deployed to the workforce.
Implementation a road risk reduction programme to ensure duty of care compliance needs to encompass several key areas. Firstly – businesses need to assess the risks they currently face across their fleet, this needs to involve checking all driver licences and grey fleet documents in order to identify where their high risk areas are. Once identified businesses need to formulate a policy that seeks to ensure that all drivers are driving legally, with the correct insurance and that all vehicles are safe to drive. Where necessary businesses may also want to consider driving training in order to improve driver behaviour. Once the policy has been formulated it needs to be communicated, read and understood by all staff before they drive for business purposes.
Once the policy has been implemented it’s critical that fleet managers don’t just “set and forget” –policies needs reviewing regularly to ensure the mitigation strategies are still effective in reducing the road risk faced by the business. Furthermore, in order to ensure the business has an up to date picture of the risks they face it’s critical that driver and vehicle documents are checked at regular intervals. The final consideration fleet managers must take into is that they must be able to demonstrate the steps they have taken to ensure compliance. This means that accurate records need to kept that prove a business has undertaken checks on key documents including driver licences, MOT certificates, insurance policies and that staff have read and understood the policy.
Breach of health and safety regulations is a criminal offence and can result in the company, or an individual manager, being prosecuted. Each breach can also incur a fine of up to £20,000. Should a life be endangered or someone killed then it could result in catastrophic consequences for the business and its managers. Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act businesses could be liable for unlimited fines as well as a publicity order. The first prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act was bought before the courts in 2011. The company involved was fined £385,000 despite being a small business and the sole Director was charged with Manslaughter.