Employers Beware – Big Risks From Driving At Work

Driving is the most dangerous work activity that most people do.  Research indicates that about 20 people are killed and 250 seriously injured every week in road traffic accidents involving someone who was driving, riding or otherwise using the road for work / business purposes.

Health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities and the risks should be assessed and managed within a health & safety system.

It is therefore necessary for employers to assess the risks involved in their staff’s use of the road for work and put in place all reasonably practicable measures to manage those risks.  It is not required for an organisation to consider the risks associated with commuting, unless the employee is travelling from their home to a location which is not their usual place of work.

It is also worth noting that in the case of a worst case scenario, where a road traffic accident results in a fatality, recent changes in the law mean that where the accident has been caused by an avoidable distraction, the driver and / or employer will now face a lengthy prison sentence, rather than just a fine.

Avoidable distractions which courts will consider when sentencing motorists who have killed include:

  • using a mobile phone (talking or texting);
  • eating or drinking
  • applying make-up
  • anything else which takes their attention away from the road and which a court judges to have been an avoidable distraction.

This is relevant to an organisation in that it’s important that such distractions can’t be attributed to the employer of a driver, for example if the driver felt they had to use their phone for business purposes while driving, or even if their work schedule didn’t allow them sufficient time to stop and eat.  In a worst case scenario, the employer could be standing alongside the individual driver, facing sentencing in court.

A driving at work policy should be put in place, to include daily / weekly and periodic checks of company cars (or privately owned cars used for business purposes) including tyre pressure, windscreen wipers & washers and body work.  Weekly checks should also be made for levels of oil and water, as well as break lights and other lights.

Employees driving for business should also submit their driving licence on a 6-monthly basis, as well as service records for privately owned cars used for business purposes, insurance (specifying business use) and MOT where applicable on an annual basis.

It would also be prudent for employers to consider the further driving related hazard of road rage, and consider whether it is reasonable to enrol their employees on an advanced and defensive driving course.

For many employees driving for business, they will be alone in their vehicle for potentially long periods of time.  For this reason it is important to consider them as lone workers, and employ a suitable form of remote monitoring to ensure that if they encounter a problem of any sort, colleagues or managers are aware as quickly as possible.  Maintaining contact with an office-based colleague on a 2-hourly basis would be a reasonable way of achieving this.

It should be established if the employee driving for work suffers with any moderate to severe medical conditions which could affect their health and wellbeing, and possibly even their safety to drive for prolonged periods of time (even with breaks).  Suitable first aid kits should be present in all vehicles used for work purposes, and it should be made clear to employees that they must disclose any medical conditions on an ad-hoc basis which may effect their ability to safety drive a motor vehicle.

One area which is often overlooked in companies driving at work policies is that of eyesight.  Research has revealed that one in four motorists have a level of eyesight below the legal standard for driving, so it’s important that organisations do all they can to ensure this is not the case with staff driving on behalf of their business.

A prudent policy would be to request that all staff who drive for work have their eyes tested at least every two years, and provide confirmation that their eyesight is of a suitable standard for driving, or that corrective appliances will be worn to achieve this standard.

It is a little-known fact among motorists that some eye conditions must be reported to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). These include cataracts, glaucoma and double vision. If a company driver suffers from one of these ailments, and the DVLA is not informed, then the organisation’s motor insurance could be invalid if that driver is involved in a road accident.

One of the messages regularly hammered home on Britain ’s motorways, is the importance of taking regular breaks. Driving for long distances can be as wearing on the eyes as it is on the brain, and drivers should stop for at least a 15 minute break every two hours.

No matter what an organisation does to reduce the risk of work-related driving accidents, it will never be possible to avoid the hazard altogether.  It is therefore vital that a comprehensive Driving For Work Policy is in place, which is confirmed as received and understood by all relevant employees and signed off by the employee.

The arrival of the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 is the latest chapter in an ongoing story that stretches back decades. What the changes will achieve is to remind employers of the potentially massive financial and criminal impact of their failure to manage their occupational road risk.

Unlimited fines and the incredible disruption of a police investigation into their business at board level are a probable outcome of a fatal road traffic accident.  Not to mention the subsequent investigation by the Health & Safety Executive relative to personal liability on the part of Directors and Senior Managers.  Once the police investigation is complete, the file will be passed to the Crown Prosecution service, pending criminal charges being brought.

Driving for work must be included in the organisation’s risk assessment process, so that control measures can be identified to reduce the chances of harm occurring.  This way if harm does occur, the organisation will at least have a legal defence, and will be able to say that they did all they could to control the risk.  Employers often overlook auditing their risk assessments & policy, which should be undertaken annually.

Applicable Legislation:

  • The Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007
  • The Health and Safety At Work Etc. Act 1974
  • Management of Health & Safety At Work Regulations 1999
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998