Why companies need to take responsibility for work-related road safety

Throughout the world, driving is considered a high-risk activity and far too many people needlessly lose their lives in accidents every day. The term 'Accident' suggests the incident was unavoidable. 

This is precisely why we should stop using this term and call them what they are: crashes, collisions, incidents! In the UK the Police have already started doing this. They no longer refer to RTA's (Road Traffic Accidents) they call them RTC's (Road Traffic Collisions). 

95% of collisions have driver error as the main contributory factor.

Shocking, isn't it? Well, in the eyes of us road safety professionals, this is a good thing, mainly because there is an excellent opportunity to do something positive. Imagine if 95% of collisions were as a result of mechanical failure, we'd probably ditch the car for good!

More people are injured or killed at work while driving than in any of the high-risk industries, construction, mining and oil exploration to mention just a few. 

Why? Well, if you think about it, the high-risk industries will have gone to great measures to identify and mitigate risks. It's all about safety, training, management controls, regulations and so on. However, when it comes to driving, one of life's high-risk activities, most companies have relatively few control measures in place and, sadly, far too many have nothing at all.

Why is changing this so important? Because companies can play a vital role in road safety, by recognising that driving is a high-risk activity and by having a good Driver Risk Management Programme in place. By doing this, not only are they contributing towards road safety, they are doing the right thing for their staff and above all, meeting their Health & Safety duty of care obligations. 

In my experience, driver safety sadly ends up as the poor relation of general health and safety in the workplace, often because driving is not viewed as being a risky activity, after all, we all do it! But remember, a significant number of collisions happen during work time, on a work journey! So as a responsible employer and one who puts people first, managing driver safety should be a must and be viewed as a business-critical requirement.

Now, here comes the challenge. We want to manage driver risk effectively in the workplace, what do we have to do? How do we do it? Who will do it? So many questions. Let's explore this in a bit more detail.

Top-down mandate!

The mandate must come from the top, for two reasons. Firstly, the 'controlling mind', CEO, MD, business owner, etc., of the company has the authority to introduce practices to manage driver risk. Secondly, should a fatality be a result of a work-related RTC, and the Company were found guilty of failing in their duty of care, the finger of blame would almost certainly point at the controlling mind of the business, whoever that might be. Would they want that on their conscience? 

So, the controlling mind gives the mandate required, what then? Someone needs to take responsibility for driver safety in the business, on behalf of but supported by, the senior management team. 

Champion

So it all has to start with appointing a 'Champion'. This person will act as a trusted go-between the senior management team and whatever management structure is in place that then has direct control and access to their driving population. The Champion will also be a single point of contact for any service partners; this ensures continuity and more of a guarantee that important things won't 'fall down the cracks', something that frequently happens when there is no central governance around driver safety.

Risk assessment

Stage one of a good driver risk management programme must be to conduct a thorough risk assessment. This must not be a few lines added to your generic risk assessment; it must look very closely at all aspects of your driving activities, your staff, their vehicles and the journeys they make. If you have a good risk assessment in place, it will facilitate the next stage, that is to prepare a comprehensive driver safety policy

The driver safety policy

The driver safety policy is an essential document because it articulates your standards, what you expect from your staff and what they can expect from you, all aligned to driver safety.

Aim to keep your driver safety policy concise, but, very explicit. Avoid using terms such as 'you are advised', this is open to misinterpretation, better to use terms such as you 'must', you 'must not'. Also, it's better to provide advice and guidance on the wider aspects of safe driving in a separate document, under the heading of 'Driver Safety Handbook'. If you combine the two, the document will be huge and let's be realistic, will people read it?

Within your driver safety policy, you need to include things like: 

  • Expected driving standard

  • Your mobile phone policy

  • Your requirements for managing fatigue

  • Medical fitness standards

  • Drinking and drug driving

  • Vehicle checks

  • Journey planning

  • What procedures are in place for reporting incidents

Up-to-date and complete records

When I conduct driver risk management reviews, I ask a simple question, but get a variety of answers. Here is the question, 'Do you have a definitive list of everyone within your business who drives on company business, either a company vehicle or their own'. The answers are never a straight forward. Some businesses have a list of staff who drive purely because they have a company car, some only know about employees driving their own vehicle when they submit a mileage claim, others have a list that goes out of date as soon as it has been compiled. Don't suppose this resonated with you? Records are essential, not just because it makes good business sense, but should something go wrong. You won't be able to demonstrate due diligence if your records are not up to scratch. 

"As a business, you can't afford to assume that because a person has a driving licence, they are (a) legally entitled to drive and (b) competent."

Driver licenses

You should have a process in place to validate the authenticity of a driving licence, ideally through the issuing authority. Make sure that the licence is valid for the category of vehicle being driven for work and that if it contains any endorsements, they are acceptable to your Company and your Insurance provider. 

Risk profiles

On the topic of competence, it's advisable to have some form of driver risk profile in place, initially to act as a training needs analysis but also to highlight any potential issues. For example, someone with multiple speeding offences is likely to continue with this behaviour, posing a risk to themselves, other road users and the business. You must, therefore, use this data to act sooner rather than later. By this I mean supporting the driver, perhaps driver training or maybe the person has far too much to squeeze into a single day!

Medically fit to drive

Another aspect that is taken for granted by many businesses is that unless we are told to the contrary, staff are medically fit to drive. Most people won't volunteer to talk about medical conditions, especially if it might compromise their future with the business, that's why your policy must be very explicit on your medical standards and what staff need to do to report any medical conditions. At the very least, you should get staff to complete a medical disclaimer, highlighting which conditions are reportable. A best practice would be to get staff to undertake a fitness to drive medical with an appropriate medical professional.

Grey Fleet safety

One area of driver risk management that I find lacking in far too many businesses is the management of their 'Grey Fleet', this refers to people who drive their own vehicle on work-related trips. It is only right that you apply the same governance and standards as you do for your company fleet. 

How would you feel if one of your staff was involved in a serious incident that related to them driving an unsafe vehicle, and you didn't have anything in place to verify the suitability or condition of the vehicle? In many countries, the law makes no distinction between company vehicles or employee's own vehicles. 

Regardless of local law, you have a duty of care to ensure the vehicle is fit for purpose, serviced in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations, is taxed, has an appropriate safety certificate if it needs one and that the driver has the right level of business cover on their insurance policy. You'd be amazed at how many don't!

Technology

So, you've got everything in place that you possibly could have, and your staff go onto the road network, now what? How do you know what they are getting up to? How safely are they driving? Unless you are with them, you simply don't know. This is where technology comes into its own.

With the right technology, one that is aligned to providing insights as to a driver's behaviour and risk-taking, and with the right support, you can effectively manage driver safety on an ongoing basis.

To avoid the 'spy in the cab' or the 'big brother' theory, consider rewarding good performance and behaviours, supporting drivers who fall below the line. This approach will strengthen acceptance as drivers will see technology as a benefit, not a negative.

Final Thoughts

Driver risk management, as you will glean from this article, is quite involved, and, dare I say it, it should be. We are dealing with real people and asking them to engage in an activity that claims countless lives every single day. So we owe it to them, their families, other road users. When we look at this from a responsible employer's view, it's the right thing to do to put everything possible in place to manage driver safety in the workplace.

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