Can your employees drive safely?

Can your employees drive safely? This question is not about your employees’ driving skills, but rather are they working in an environment in which they are able, should they choose to do so, to drive safely?

Creating a safe driving environment is one of the key elements of any effective work-related road risk management program and one that must be addressed if any employee-focused interventions are to be effective and sustainable.

So how do you go about creating an environment in which employees can drive safely?

The safety-operational balance

The safety-operational balance is a critical area to focus on.  Having safe driving policies and procedures is essential, but these are of limited benefit if they conflict with your operating practices and procedures, as the latter will always take precedent. We can explore this issue by looking at some of the key reasons why serious collisions occur, and include some examples where operational needs might conflict with what is required to drive safely:

Fatigue

If your organisation has a long working hours culture then regardless of anything you have in your safe driving policies about the total length of the working day (including driving and commuting), employees are likely to carry on working long hours.  They will subsequently be at risk of being involved in fatigue-related crashes. 

Another example would be taking regular breaks from driving.  Your safe driving policy should be aligned to current best practice – drivers should take a 20-minute break every 2 hours, or sooner if they start to feel tired. But if the schedules you set for drivers means that they can’t achieve these without continuous driving, then it is likely that your employees will not take these breaks and increase their risk of being involved in fatigue-related crashes.

Speed

A good driver safety policy would include the requirement not to exceed the posted speed limit and to drive slower than the limit depending on the prevailing road conditions (for example in poor weather conditions or on urban roads where there are lots of pedestrians and cyclists).  There are many examples of where your operational practices and procedures might conflict with this, such as incentivising employees by the number of calls or ‘drops’ they make, setting unrealistic schedules, managers putting pressure on employees if sales targets are not being met, or having unrealistic Service Level Agreements in place.

Distractions 

If there is a requirement for your employees to carry out any additional tasks whilst driving, from an operational perspective, then it is unlikely that any distracted driving policy will be sufficient.  As an example, if employees always must be contactable, such as by their manager or customers, then regardless of what is stated in your distracted driving (mobile ‘phone) policy, it is likely that the employee will choose to take (or make) a call, putting themselves at an increased risk of being involved in a collision.

A driver using a hands-free ‘phone has a 4x increased risk of being involved in a crash and has similar reaction times to someone at around 3x the 0.05 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) drink-drive limit.

Impairment

A good impaired driving policy will include sections on alcohol, recreational drugs and medications.  The culture of a business could, in some circumstances, encourage employees to use drugs or medication to keep working.  If a long working hours culture exists in the business, then employees can be tempted to use stimulants to keep them awake towards the end of their working day.  Similarly, if an employee is worried about taking time off sick when they are unwell, they may be tempted to take medications which might affect their driving. 

The above examples are not an exhaustive list of things an organisation could do that might conflict with a safe driving policy but are good illustrations that can help you identify anything in your organisation that might be preventing employees from driving safely.

The critical role of the line manager

As with many aspects of an effective work-related road risk management program, the line manager has a crucial role to play, as the ‘controlling mind’ of the driver.  It is their job to reinforce the organisation’s safe driving policies.  Even more importantly, line managers need to ensure that they are not asking their staff, either directly or indirectly, to do anything operationally that might cause them to act unsafely.

As an example, it is common to find managers, and some drivers, to have incentive schemes based on certain operational metrics.  If a driver sees that they or their department are not hitting these goals then they may be tempted to take risks whilst driving to help achieve the target, whether their manager has asked them to or not.  It is in these circumstances that strong management is required, to ensure that it is clear to all employees that when driving they should not take risks, whatever the operational targets are.

Line managers should play an integral role in your work-related road risk management program.  They are the ones who are best placed to influence their direct reports and be in a position to create a safe working environment for their departments.

Do you have a safe working environment?

This is a difficult but important area to analyse; it is relatively straightforward to check if your safe driving policies meet current best practice, and, to some extent, whether they are being adhered to, but it is much more difficult to assess if there is anything at an operational or management level that may be making employees take risks whilst driving.

One area to look at is post incident reviews.  Whenever a crash occurs, or an employee receives a traffic violation, or there are exceptions / negative trends in driver behaviour telemetry data, then this is an indication that something has gone wrong.  Is this simply down to bad driving or did the organisation have a role to play?  The most difficult, but the most critical question to ask yourself, when an incident has occurred, is, “What did we do, as an organisation, that may have contributed to the incident?”.

Whenever you audit any part of your work-related road risk management program, any non-compliances may be down to operational or management issues; you should never assume that these are simply down to bad driving or employees choosing not to follow your policies and procedures.

Developing a strong on-road safety culture

This is one of the critical success factors in an effective work-related road risk management program.

A strong on-road safety culture encourages employees to drive safely but also enables them to challenge anything that they think is unsafe.  As such, if there are operational or management issues that they feel might be making them take risks whilst driving, then they are more likely to raise these as concerns rather than simply choosing to take risks whilst driving.  

It takes a long time to develop a good on-road safety culture – it is beyond the scope of this article to go into any depth on this topic but suffice to say strong and consistent leadership and management, combined with a focused, on-going communication strategy are keys to achieving this.

The sign of a good on-road safety culture is where employees drive safely because they want to, not because they have to, and continue their safe driving practices when they are making private road journeys.

Conclusions

Creating an environment in which employees can drive safely is critical in an effective work-related road risk management program.  Without this, however much is invested in driver development, they will still be working in a risky environment and crashes will continue to occur.

It is important to focus not only on your safe driver management systems, but also on how these co-exist with your operating practices and procedures; often it is the latter that need to be modified to allow safe driving practices to be implemented.

It is also critical that line managers are fully supportive of your safe driving initiatives and understand their roles and responsibilities in achieving this, especially around the influence they have over their direct reports.

Effective work-related road risk management is not an easy thing to achieve, but the rewards from  doing so, in terms of minimising the risk of harm to your employees and other road users, enhancing your Corporate Social Responsibilities, minimising the chance of prosecution and minimising your Total Cost of Risk, means that creating an environment in which employees can drive safely is an important and worthwhile initiative.

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