Amid burgeoning at-work driver safety, employers are being encouraged to look at risk assessments as much more than a mere tick box process, says Ashley Martin
For the majority of employees, driving on business is the most dangerous task they undertake during their
working life. So there is widespread concern that occupational road risk management programmes in thousands of
organisations have ‘cherry picked’ interventions, such as driver licence checking and driver training, or, at worst done absolutely nothing.
While such initiatives may be part of implementing a practical risk management solution, they may completely fail to address the problems posed by crash-happy drivers.
Consequently, fleet industry and road safety experts agree that the starting point for effectively managing all work-related driving activity – whether it is undertaken in a company car or van, a pool car, hire vehicle or a privately-owned vehicle – is a risk assessment.
As Jeremy Hay, managing director of fleet specialist Essential Risk Consultancy, says: “Risk management is a pyramid and at the base is a risk assessment. Some employers have put in place what they perceive to be work-related driving health and safety solutions, but they may not be focused on the problems because they have not undertaken a risk assessment.”
Indeed an assessment is a legal requirement. The Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 requires organisations, so far as is ‘reasonably practical’ to ensure the health and safety of all employees while at work.
Organisations also have a legal responsibility to ensure that other people are not put at risk by their work-related driving activities. In addition, five years ago the Department for Transport/Health and Safety Executive published its Driving at work: managing work-related road safety guidance. Dubbed the ‘bible’ for managing all at-work drivers, including staff who drive their own cars on business, it says: “[Fleet decision-makers] need to carry out an assessment of the risks to the health and safety of your employees, while they are at work, and to other people who may be affected by their work activities. The Regulations require you to periodically review your risk assessment so that it remains appropriate.” The guide outlines five steps to completing a risk successful assessment (see panel right).
It is estimated that between a quarter and a third of all road traffic crashes involve someone who was at work at the time. Based on 2006 government statistics the HSE reports that there are around 800-1,060 road fatalities a year compared with 241 deaths in the ‘traditional workplace’.
Faithful says: “The HSE realised this and published the guidance. The police also developed their own ‘road death investigation manual’ and those two measures brought at-work driving very much into the workplace health and safety arena.”
Expert advice says that employers should view the HSE guidance as a ‘Highway Code for business’. This is the baseline from where to work out their current risk management standing, what they should include in a risk assessment and what policies, procedures and solutions are required in terms of legal compliance.
Faithful adds: “The risk to [employers] is that they have put in place ‘solutions’ but they may still not be compliant with the law because they have never carried out a risk assessment.”
Geoffrey Bray, chairman of the Fleet Support Group, which manages a fleet of almost 50,000 vehicles, says: “The key issue is what organisations do with the information once they have completed their risk assessment.
“Information management is a weakness within many employers. Those that don’t properly manage information and use their risk assessment findings as the basis for putting in place a risk management programme will find the information completely useless.”
But, Chris Chandler, senior consultant with Lex, Britain’s largest vehicle leasing company with a fleet of more than 250,000 vehicles, says: “Fleets are broadly lagging behind the levels of health and safety that are found in office and factory environments, although with the increasing focus on duty of care and corporate manslaughter in relation to work-related driving, organisations are slowly waking up to what is required of them.
“A top slice of business and industry have grasped the risk assessment issue, but there remains a majority of employers that deem it sufficient to [rely on] a clause in a policy document, for example about not using a hand-held mobile phone while driving – believing they have got to grips with what the risks are in their specific business. They haven’t.”
Accident history After a company has undertaken its own risk assessment, firms like Lex will then work with customers to help them quantify the size of the risk posed by their transport operations and recommend initiatives that could be taken to reduce those risks.
“We typically find clients that have conducted a risk assessment of their buildings, but not of their vehicles. They have taken the view that vehicles are the responsibility of their employees, but that is wrong in law,” says Chandler.
Richard Hill, sales director of driver training and risk assessment company Peak Performance, says a driver assessment should be part of a would-be employee’s job interview and adds: “They may be the best salesperson in the land, but if they’ve got a history of road accidents that may be a factor in the decision to employ the applicant.”
Crucially a risk assessment should be a ‘living and breathing’ document that is continuously reviewed in the light of changing internal and external circumstances. That might include changes to the business, an employee being involved in a crash or legislative changes.
Hay says: “But change can only take place if a baseline has been established through an assessment being carried out.”
For more information on risk assessments: www.employeebenefits.co.uk/benefits/company-cars
• It is estimated that between a quarter and a half of all road traffic crashes involve someone at work.
• Risk assessments are a legal requirement.
• Some employers have embraced occupational road risk management, but many have ‘cherry picked’ interventions, such as driver licence checking and/or driver training, or done absolutely nothing.
• A ‘competent person’ with a ‘practical knowledge of the work activities being assessed’ should carry out the risk assessment.
• A risk assessment should be a ‘living and breathing’ document that is continuously reviewed in light of changing internal and external circumstances.
Case study: Océ UK
Océ UK, one of the world’s leading providers of document management and printing for professionals, experienced significant savings as a result of conducting a fleet risk assessment.
It used risk assessment managers, Peak Performance, and experienced a 30% cut in accident rates following a change in the driving culture among 450 employees who drive as part of their job.
Océ fleet manager Colin Jones, says: “Accident costs have been halved and employee wellbeing and safety have been significantly improved. The result is a measurable contribution to our business efficiency and savings that go straight to the bottom line.” Peak Performance sales director Richard Hill says: “Carrying out a risk assessment needs to result in some real actions that go beyond simply producing a driving policy.”
Financial savings of up to 30% from reductions in road crash rates can accrue if companies implement all the recommendations emanating from a risk assessment.
A typical risk management expert is likely to undertake a full-scale risk assessment beginning with a questionnaire ahead of the client meeting, which enables relevant data relating to drivers, vehicles, crashes and company culture to be gathered.
Following the risk assessment, a report running to some 40-plus pages is produced containing prioritised recommendations aimed at managing and reducing the driver, vehicle and journey risk.
For example, a DriveTech assessment comprising a one-day visit and evaluation, followed by one day to generate the report typically costs £1,000-£1,200.
Five steps to a successful risk assessment
Look for driver, car and journey hazards that may result in harm.
Decide who might be harmed – driver, passengers and other road users.
Evaluate the risk and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or more should be done.
Record your findings to show that a risk assessment has been completed, consultations with staff occurred and hazards dealt with.
Review the assessment and revise, if necessary, after gathering, recording and analysing information about drivers, vehicles and road incidents.
Source: Department for Transport/Health and Safety Executive’s Driving at work: managing work-related road safety guidance