The winter, with fewer hours of daylight and the chance of severe weather conditions, can be a hazardous time for drivers.
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- Employers have a duty of care to ensure employees are safe when driving for business.
- Training, such as seminars or online risk assessments, can help staff understand the risks of winter driving in darkness or bad weather.
- Employers should remind staff about the legalities of drinking and driving after a Christmas party, including the morning after.
An employer’s responsibility for how and when an employee drives on business may only stretch so far, but the organisation should do what it can to ensure that staff, and their cars, are as safe as possible.
Peter Rodger, chief examiner and head of driving standards at road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), says: “It is in the employer’s best interest to make sure staff can get to work and operate safely, and that they don’t go absent either because they become immobile or injured.”
The Health and Safety Executive states that employers have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to manage the risks associated with driving.
Kenny Roberts, founder and managing director of ATC Driver Training, says that although each employer may have its own take on its responsibilities, any forward-thinking organisation with employees that drive on its behalf should go that little bit further. “They should look to do face-to-face training, classroom seminars or online risk assessments,” he says.
As well as the shorter winter days, the British weather can be very hazardous, with fog, ice and snow causing big problems for drivers. Rodger says one way employers can improve the safety of their staff is to ensure they are aware how dangerous the weather can be.
“It would be great for employers to lay on seminars for their staff to talk about how to deal with the conditions,” he says. “They can then be flexible about what the content [of the seminar] is, depending on what the actual conditions are. That can help in preparing staff to deal with bad weather: snow, ice or fog.”
Driver training can include monitoring an employee’s driving habits and techniques. This can involve using a GPS vehicle tracking system to identify the movements of each car.
Chris McClellan, director of RAM Tracking, says: “Vehicle tracking is an effective way of employers upholding their duty of care, ensuring employees out on the road are kept safe, particularly in winter when driving conditions can quickly become treacherous.”
Looking after a car is just as important as ensuring its driver is confident in handling wintery conditions. ATC’s Roberts says: “Unfortunately, we have a culture that company car drivers don’t value their car as much as if they owned it themselves, and so they neglect it.
“This is where the employer comes in, to make sure [maintenance] measures are in place, that line managers ensure that the end user, the driver on the road, is making these checks and is signed off in doing so.”
The IAM also issues tips for drivers on how to ensure their car is prepared for bad weather. These include ensuring windscreen wipers are in good condition and that screen wash is topped up; checking that the tread of all tyres is above the legal minimum depth of 1.6mm, but look for replacements if it is below 3mm; and that the car has had a thorough check over, including the engine coolant level and whether any light bulbs need replacing.
Of course, winter does not only bring bad weather and darker days: it is also the season of the work Christmas party. Employers should give employees a clear reminder about the dangers of drinking and driving, and consider how staff might get home from a Christmas party.
The IAM’s Rodger says employers should also warn staff about driving the morning after a night out drinking. “Safety and legality can both be compromised,” he says.