In his fifth regular monthly column for SHP, Simon Turner talks about the ways in which health and safety teams should review working practices to ensure that they prioritise driver safety, and do not compromise it.
As you know, employers have a duty to manage health and safety for their workers and the public. However, organisational structure, business demands, working patterns and reward structures often do not consider the potential implications on the safety of those driving for work. Here, we consider a few of the ways in which health and safety teams should review working practices to ensure that they prioritise driver safety, and do not compromise it.
Shift patterns. Night workers comprise 12% of the UK workforce, and those with rotating shift patterns add to that number. The disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms is well known to contribute to medical issues, and also a higher proportion of occupational accidents and driving collisions. The most likely time for a fatigue related driving collision is between 2am and 6am, followed by 2pm to 4pm, when our alertness is naturally lower.
It is worth considering how work patterns can be adapted to minimise driving at these times; to educate shift workers about managing proper rest; and possibly providing transport home after night shifts. Parliamentary recommendations can be found here.
Reward schemes. Ensure that workers are not incentivised in such a way as to encourage higher mileage or faster driving. If employees have targets for customer contacts, visits, or sales meetings, re-engineer a proportion of these to be by video call or phone. Cluster visits in specific areas with hotel accommodation, so mileage is minimised. If the work is of a physical nature – delivery, installation or servicing for example – then remove targets unless they can encompass a safety component. Safe process is more important than outcome.
Shared responsibilities for driver and vehicle safety. Ideally, every organisation using vehicles will have a qualified manager responsible for maintaining a safe and compliant fleet. However, it is not only their responsibility. Ensure that line managers, customer service staff, HR, and H&S teams understand that drivers must be fit to drive; not interrupted when driving; and that their safe driving performance is an integral part of their job expectations.
Operational pressure and communications. Operational pressures can frequently lead managers to cut corners in terms of getting a new driver on the road, to overlook minor safety lapses, or to call a driver to give fresh instructions. It is vital that everyone understands that safety is the first and foundational principle of the business, regardless of its core activity. Drivers should be empowered to turn off phones and other devices, and to only check for missed calls once stopped. Inductions, licence checks and, if necessary, in-vehicle training should all be conducted before a driver is allowed a vehicle on company business, and reviewed regularly.
A safety culture. A top-down, bottom up safety culture, in which everyone follows the same rules when driving is ideal. However, this must also make provision for employees to report that they are not well enough, or alert enough to drive on any specific day, without penalty. It may be that they require occupational support, if they have a medical, mental health or personal issue. However, they may simply have not slept well, or be feeling unwell. No one should feel they must drive when not fit for fear of occupational or financial penalty.