Managing occupational road risk
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that a quarter of all road traffic accidents may involve someone who is driving as part of their work.
Taking work-related road risk seriously is a legal requirement and recognising the risks and managing them accordingly could help reduce these incidents considerably.
Employees that require a vehicle to carry out their work are covered by health and safety legislation in the same way as workers in a stationary environment. Such employees are unavoidably exposed to work-related road risk on a daily basis, along with other road users, including other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. There are real and dangerous risks associated with driving for a living; they include death and serious injury. Both the employer and the employee have a legal duty to minimise the risks.
If the risk of injury is not encouragement enough, potential liability for health and safety legislation breaches can also be substantial. Where an employer has neglected to fulfil its health and safety duties towards an employee, there is a potential criminal prosecution and also the possibility of a personal injury claim. Employees themselves could also be prosecuted by the HSE for failing to take care of their own health and safety, as well as being separately prosecuted for road traffic offences.
There is no formal legal definition of the term ‘work-related travel’. However, section 2(1) of the HSWA requires the employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees while at work. This duty extends to any place of work under the employer’s control, which would include a vehicle. The ‘reasonably practicable’ requirement means the employer has to balance the level of risk against the measures required to control it. This may involve carrying out a cost benefit analysis.
The cornerstone of effective health and safety management is risk assessment. It is also a legal requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Under Regulation 3(1), employers must manage health and safety effectively and carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
Section 7 of the HSWA requires employees to take reasonable care to ensure their own health and safety and that their actions (or omissions) do not put others at risk - this will include road users. The section also requires employees to cooperate with employers as far as reasonably necessary to enable them to implement the measures required to ensure a safe working environment – this will apply both on the road and in the workplace.
Who does it apply to?
The duties set out above extend to all work-related driving including where the vehicle is owned by the employee or is leased. This means that employers should also put procedures in place to monitor the competency of drivers and their privately owned vehicles.
However, the duties do not apply to people simply commuting to work, unless they are travelling from their home to a place which is not their usual place of work. In addition, subject to limited exceptions, work-related road incidents are not reportable under RIDDOR. This does not mean that employers can escape liability for work-related road risk. The police are very quick to identify health and safety risks associated with work-related travel and work closely with HSE during their investigations.
Employers need to consider their existing road risk policies and procedures carefully and how these are implemented, maintained and enforced. When assessing risk, employers should focus on the matters that are within their control.
Look at the entire workforce and who travels as part of their job. Certain categories of the workforce will present different risks e.g. HGV drivers and young drivers. It is important to assess the competency of these individuals. For some categories of drivers, a review of their driving licence may be sufficient. For other categories, there may be a need for further education and additional training. The right training ensures that employees take road risk seriously and are aware of how to minimise the risks when on the road alone.
Consider the type of vehicles used. How much emphasis does the organisation place on the style and look of the vehicle rather than the safety features? When considering the type of company car that is offered to employees, care should be taken to assess safety features as a priority over the look of the vehicle. Employees should be informed of, and instructed on, an adequate maintenance regime to ensure that basic safety checks are carried out on their vehicles. This will include effective defect reporting.
Where employees are using their own privately owned vehicles, you should consider appropriate policies and procedures for managing that risk, including:
- The vehicles in question are insured for business use;
- They are serviced in accordance with manufacturer’s service schedule; and
- They have an appropriate MOT (if over three year’s old).
Many businesses include these checks within their standard mileage expenses policy.
Of course, not all work-related road travel is essential. Consider whether technology, such as video conferencing can be used to avoid the need for unnecessary road travel.
Care should be taken to ensure that work schedules and driving patterns do not increase the risk of road related incidents. Equally, it is important to have procedures in place to eliminate or reduce avoidable distractions such as the use of mobile phones.
Work-related road risk remains the joint responsibility of the employer and employee. Both should be proactive and take a risk management approach in order to comply with their legal duties and ensure their own safety on the road and that of the road users around them.
Policies and procedures are only worth the paper they are written on if they are fully implemented within the business. Robust monitoring and regular review is key to ensuring their effectiveness.
What happens if we don’t manage risks effectively?
As with all health and safety legislation, a business’ failure to manage risks which it would have been ‘reasonably practicable’ to avoid can be met with a severe criminal prosecution and the potential for unlimited fines. In addition, HSE’s own guidance confirms that in some circumstances (where there is evidence that serious management failures resulted in a ‘gross breach of a relevant duty of care’), a business could be at risk of being prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.