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July 3, 2015

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Road safety: the poor relation in health and safety?

In February this year, IOSH’s Midlands Branch East District hosted a thought-provoking conference on managing occupational road risk. The main objective: to arm delegates with the knowledge they need to better protect the drivers in their businesses.

Four months on and the key lessons drawn from that event are as relevant now as they were then, especially when one considers that every day, two people are killed and 31 are seriously injured driving for work. What’s more, the figure appears to be rising.

Clearly, personal responsibility has its part to play in improving road safety. Drivers need to monitor their own driving and that includes paying close attention to the vehicle’s position on the road and selecting a gear that best suits the speed they are driving.

One of the salutary lessons highlighted at the conference was that drivers can and will over rely on technology for their safety. But this is extremely risky. The driver needs to understand what the ‘kit’ does and doesn’t do and how it should be used.

Of course, businesses have a central role to play in protecting staff and therefore others on the road. To start with, they need to consider road risk in exactly the same way as they would other risks to the business. Can they, for instance, demonstrate that they effectively manage vehicle-related risks?

It sounds like common sense but businesses need control measures in place that work. That means talking to employees and making sure that they know what is expected of them and then monitoring them to ensure it’s happening in practice. Can the business demonstrate this?

Businesses should consider whether travel is actually necessary in the first place. If it is unavoidable, the risk assessment needs to factor in the individual driver and their experience on the road, the vehicle that is being used and the routes travelled, and, importantly, the road conditions. Speeding remains a major contributory factor in road-related incidents and mobile phone use is growing. While hands-free systems are legal, they create a further risk because they are an avoidable distraction.

If a business is not actively doing something to effectively control the risks, they could well be making the situation worse. The fact is good controls and documentation can save lives, avoid injuries and reduce premiums.

Former IOSH president Subash Ludhra, who chaired the conference, argues that more needs to be done to drive home the road safety message. He was struck by the presentation from Alan Rogers MBE, a retired road traffic policeman, in which he drew attention to the fact that the cost to the UK of each road fatality was somewhere in the region of £1.6bn.

Subash also cites Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at RoSPA, who emphasised the point that employers need to encourage staff to drive safely both in and outside the world of work.

“Kevin reiterated that road safety is a bigger issue than work-related safety in terms of injury and death rates,” he says. “[He also said] that technology could be better used to help employers as part of their occupational road risk management strategy.”

Not surprisingly, the insurance industry has strong views on fleet road risk and urges all employers to maintain good record keeping should things go wrong.

As the conference highlighted, initiatives like the Fleet risk hard and soft scoring system can help employers reduce premiums by working with their insurers and make them aware of what they are doing.

At last month’s Safety & Health Expo, delegates got the opportunity to sit in on a mock trial, which highlighted the dangers of employer complacency on road safety. Over the years, there have been a number of high-profile prosecutions, most notably, Produce Connection (2002), M J Groves International (2008), and more recently A J Haulage (2013) and Frys Logistics (2014).

But what else can be done to drive up safety on the road? Subash points to the van excellence scheme, an extension of what would be expected from all professional drivers, such as heavy goods and passenger service vehicles, as a shining example of good practice.

He also feels that there is a great opportunity to launch a fleet car drivers’ excellence code, especially in light of the fact that many employers are handing over keys to equipment worth thousands of pounds to employees without proper training, instruction or assessment.

Looking down the road, clearly there is no single fix; rather it’s more about continuous improvement.

However, to quote Mark Cartwright from the Freight Transport Association, employers should “take it seriously, professionalise and give pride in driving”.

SHP would like to thank Les Pearce, chair of the IOSH Midland Branch East District, for his input in this comment piece.

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