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• Employers should ensure they use a reputable bikes-for-work provider.
• Promoting awareness of the importance of safety equipment and cycle safety should be part of the launch of a scheme.
• Unless an employee uses their bicycle for work purposes, it is unlikely a case of corporate manslaughter would be brought against the employer.
• Many providers offer bicycle check-ups or even cycling proficiency training.
Employee safety must be a top priority when employers provide a bikes-for-work scheme, says Tom Washington
Despite uncertainty in recent years over the tax-efficient status of bikes-for-work schemes, these have remained a popular, low-cost benefit for many employers and their staff. According to the Cycle to Work Alliance, there are now more than 400,000 bikes-for-work scheme members in the UK.
Tax-free loans, operated under salary sacrifice arrangements, see employers buy a bike on behalf of the employee, with the amount then deducted in equal instalments from the employee’s gross salary.
It may appear to be a relatively easy perk to provide, but one thing employers should always bear in mind is the safety of the employees involved. David Collins, managing director of safety and health services provider Collins Consult, says employers must set out a detailed plan before launching a scheme. “In all cases, it is imperative that employers source bicycles only from a reputable supplier,” he says. “By taking adequate precautions, it will be difficult to suggest an employer’s actions have been negligent.”
In much the same way as an employer would not be liable for an accident involving an employee driving to and from work, it is unlikely corporate manslaughter legislation will be an issue for a bikes-for-work scheme.
“If the bicycle is to be used during work hours, such as to get to a client meeting, then additional obligation placed on the employer should be considered,” says Collins. “For instance, completing a suitable risk assessment of the work activity and ensuring a safe system of work is communicated.”
Jeremy Persad, client services manager at bikes-for-work scheme provider Cyclescheme, says that in six years of operation, the firm has never heard of a corporate manslaughter case being brought against an employer. “All employers are required to obtain some form of liability insurance in the unlikely event that they are deemed responsible for harm to an employee, direct or indirect,” he adds.
But there are various steps employers can take to be sure to offer the benefit responsibly.
Bicycles are subject to wear and tear, which means some danger lies in the risk of malfunction. Liability for an accident is more likely be passed on to the bike shop and then to the manufacturer, but employers can help to ensure staff keep their bike roadworthy.
Tate and Lyle Sugars, for example, offered bike repair services and cycling proficiency training via an external provider when it launched its bikes-for-work scheme in 2008. Lynsey Corder, HR adviser at the firm, says: “We were providing access to the bikes, so we wanted to ensure they were being used safely. The maintenance check-ups were very popular, although not many people went for the cycling proficiency lessons.”
Cyclescheme’s Persad says employers should encourage staff to get bikes checked regularly and serviced every six months. “It is written into the hire agreement that the responsibility for the upkeep of the bike lies with the employee, so there is no requirement for employers to do this. However, encouragement helps to support the employer’s general corporate responsibility policy.”
Employers can also remind staff of the importance of using the right kit, emphasising this in their policy on cycle use. “They can also look into providing good facilities in the workplace,” says Persad. “Lockers can help lessen the ride load; the less the rider has to carry, the safer the journey. Quality sheltered cycle parking helps keep bikes in good order and providing spare emergency lights can help keep employees safe.”
Read also Buyer’s guide to bikes-for-work schemes