Welcome to the January edition of the Health and Safety bulletin. The recent spell of bad weather brings into sharp focus the need for employers to ensure that they have in place a suitable management system for driving at work. The bulletin sets out some guidance to help get you started if you do not have a system in place already. The guidance is aimed at businesses where driving is not part of the core activities. In those cases more detailed and specific advice is necessary.

Management of Driving at Work

Employers whose employees undertake driving as part of their work, whether in vehicles provided by the employer or in private vehicles, have a number of legal duties to meet. Most obviously the vehicle and the driver must comply with road traffic legislation such as the requirement to hold a valid licence, have a MOT certificate for a vehicle over three years old and so on. In addition, however, driving as part of an individual’s employment also generates duties under Health and Safety legislation. The duties fall on the employer to protect his employees and third parties affected by his undertaking (in this case members of the general public in the vicinity of his employees whilst they are driving).

The duties relate to driving undertaken at work so do not extend to commuting. However, they would apply if an employee was travelling from home to a location that was not their ordinary place of work.

It is strongly recommended that employers include “management of driving risks” in the organisation’s health and safety policy. A system for management of the risks assosicated with driving should stem from the policy and should be drafted following appropriate consultation with relevant employees.

The management of driving risks is not wholly dissimilar to the management of risk in other areas of a business and is based upon risk assessment. Best practice would be to undertake a risk assessment for each identified driver on an annual basis but if you have very few drivers or a very small number of driving hours, a broader approach to the risk assessment may suffice.

In assessing the risk there are three key factors to take into account:

  1. The Driver

Are you satisfied that the driver is competent? You should check that the employee has a valid driving licence, make a record of any penalties imposed for road traffic offences and review their accident record. You may wish to set criteria to allow you to identify employees you would not allow to undertake driving as part of their work, or perhaps a certain driving history should trigger a need for training before you allow an individual to drive a vehicle as part of their work.

Is the driver sufficiently fit and healthy to undertake driving tasks safely? You would want to know if the employee suffers from any medical conditions that affect his ability to drive (bearing in mind that there are minimum standards imposed by DVLA that would also affect validity of the driving licence). Any change in circumstances may result in a need to stop that person from driving as part of their work or to consider sending them for a medical or eye sight test if you have any concerns.

Is the driver sufficiently informed and well-trained in defensive driving techniques? Do they know enough about the vehicle if it is part of a fleet? Have they received induction training or otherwise been adequately informed about your driving policy?

  1. The Vehicle

If you are providing the vehicle how are you satisfying yourself that the vehicle is fit for purpose and adequately maintained? You must have a rigorous system in place to ensure that the vehicle is in a safe condition. If you do have a fleet of vehicles and are in any doubt, you should seek detailed advice on the sufficiency of your systems.

If your employees drive their own vehicles do you check that they are roadworthy? You could achieve this by keeping a record of the vehicles that each employee may use and confirm that they are either under 3 years old or have a valid MOT certificate. You could write into your driving policy a requirement that employees must ensure that their vehicle is serviced at appropriate intervals and that they must not drive if they know or suspect that the vehicle has a fault. You should also check that the employee has insurance that covers business use and your policy should prohibit business use of private vehicles for those who do not have adequate cover.

  1. The Journey

It is important that when a need for employees to undertake journeys for work purposes is identified, employers initially try to minimise the need for employees to drive and encourage use of public transport where possible. Where that is not possible the management system should include a means of encouraging staff to thoroughly plan their routes, to ensure that they build in enough time to travel safely and allow for work loads to be organised so that employees are not under pressure to drive when they may be too tired. In organisations where the risk is assessed to be minimal it may suffice to issue a written policy stating that all employees engaged in driving for work purposes must abide by specified rules relating to journey planning and avoidance of driving whilst fatigued. The drafting of the rules would have to be specific to the organisation.

In situations where severe weather warnings are issued the need to encourage use of alternative means of transport increases, although it remains the case that this is not always possible. If you anticipate that over the winter months journeys for some of your employees cannot be taken by means of public transport or will be postponed if severe weather warnings are issued, then it would be prudent to consider providing training in safe winter driving techniques to the affected employees. If you are providing the vehicles you may also want to consider what additional equipment the employee may need to have in their vehicle to allow them to deal with any emergency situation, such as becoming stranded.

In broader terms your management system for driving should include a policy statement that sets out what employees should do when something goes wrong, that encourages reporting of changes in fitness to drive and that prohibits the use of mobile phones or other items that are likely to cause a distraction. It may also be worthwhile to ensure that employees using their own cars have adequate breakdown cover.

The consequences of failing to have in place a robust management system for driving at work are potentially very serious. The HSE and VOSA have an interest in enforcement that covers driving and accordingly prosecutions for breaches of health and safety regulations are possible. Potentially more serious consequences stem from the fact that initial investigation of a road traffic accident would be undertaken by the police. The police have responsibility for investigations of possible corporate homicide charges and, where they establish that the party responsible for a fatal accident is driving in the course of their employment, it is entirely plausible that they will look beyond the circumstances of the accident to see if there have been contributory management failures on the part of the organisation. Recent discussions in England and Wales, which are likely to impact upon the Scottish Courts’ assessment of fines, tend to suggest that in corporate homicide cases fines are likely to exceed £500,000 and in many cases may be measured in millions. It is clear that over and above the potentially serious human consequences of an accident there are very significant financial penalties at stake that make putting some time and effort into preparing a sound management system for driving at work very much worthwhile.