Ensuring the safety of company car users

There is little legal compulsion for employers to ensure their company car users are sufficiently fit and healthy to drive, but there are plenty of good reasons why they should do so, says Katrina McKeever

There is little in law to compel employers to check the health of their drivers when handing over the keys to a new company car. This is despite the fact that a wave of legislation has highlighted the need for employers to have robust risk assessment procedures in place. However, employers that do feel they have a moral duty to ensure the health and safety of their workforce may want to establish health and sight checks as part of a regular routine for company drivers.

Much of the guidance for fleet management procedures is contained in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) booklet Driving at work, managing work-related road safety. This spells out good practice for employers to comply with health and safety at work legislation. According to the HSE, the most important duty for employers is to carry out regular risk assessments, review them regularly and be satisfied that their drivers are sufficiently fit and healthy to drive. Although there is no legal requirement, it also suggests regular medicals for employees deemed most at risk, and says drivers might be reminded of the eyesight requirements in the Highway Code. Employers might also consider reminding staff about not driving, or undertaking other duties, while taking a course of medication.

Although these suggestions are not legally binding, Geoffrey Bray, chairman of the Fleet Support Group, says good-practice employers will want to ensure their drivers are fit for purpose. One way to achieve this is to introduce a fleet management system that incorporates driver check reminders, such as dates of eye tests. “Eye tests should be standard and I would suggest every two years,” he says. “If you don’t wear glasses and everything is fine, go every two years and just confirm it.”

But legally, there is little employers are required to do to establish that an employee is fit to drive. Employers could reasonably argue that checking they hold a driving licence is sufficient proof they are fit to drive. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has strict rules around medical conditions and must be notified of any change in health, such as heart problems or epilepsy, that could impair a driver’s ability. If the employee’s GP and the DVLA medical panel declare a person fit to drive, the employer may rightly judge this sufficient proof.

But Andrew Leech, business manager at My Company Fleet, part of Northgate Arinso, says some employers will not accept responsibility for checking driving licences with the DVLA. “There are solicitors who say that as long as the employer has asked for a driving licence, if a driver produces an old photocopy, it is the driver who is committing fraud and who should get the jail sentence.” Leech believes employers are unlikely to assume responsibility for this until prosecutions come to court.

Recent legislation may focus employers’ attention on driver health and safety. The DVLA, for example, is currently consulting on plans to introduce 10-year health checks for all drivers, which are likely to include mental and physical tests to ensure a driver meets the minimum standards required, including eyesight and reaction times. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, and the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 have also increased the pressure on employers to ensure their risk assessment and fleet management procedures are up to scratch. Under these laws, employers that turn a blind eye to occupational road risk management could find themselves facing prosecution, fines and, in extreme cases, jail.

Employers may want to be more aware of conditions such as stress or tiredness that may affect employees’ ability to drive and, in extreme cases, could contribute to accidents. Adrian Walsh, director at Roadsafe, says: “It is important people are fit and well enough to do that job. This is a straightforward management responsibility and it applies as much in the car as it does in the office. The only difference is that the risk is much higher in a car than it is in the office.”

Employees must also feel comfortable to report medical conditions to their employer, particularly where there is no legal obligation to do so. Conditions such as back pain may cause a driver to be off work and in some cases could be rectified with a modified car seat that provides better lumbar support.

Employers that do go beyond the minimum may be rewarded with reduced insurance premiums, but this is generally true only for organisations with 50 vehicles or more, says Leech. “They will go to their insurer, show them their stats, risk management and best practice, and negotiate a larger discount.”

If you read nothing else, read this..

  • There is little in law to compel employers to check their staff are fit to drive.
  • The HSE suggests reminding staff of the importance of eye tests, and health checks for drivers deemed to be at risk.
  • Legislation such as the corporate manslaughter act may persuade employers to bring in driver health checks.
  • Bigger employers that take a lead on best practice may find their insurance premium cut.