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With the Department for Transport recording 1,784 reported road deaths in 2018, a conservative estimate would, therefore, suggest that in excess of 500 deaths per year involve someone driving for work purposes. A figure corroborated by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
HSE statistics show that there were 147 workplace fatalities in the UK in 2018/2019. This figure does not include deaths on the road. These figures show that driving is clearly one of the most hazardous tasks performed for work.
There are numerous options for safety managers to implement safety checks on vehicles, plan safer journeys, make work schedules reasonable, etc, but what about the drivers themselves? Driver checks and training go a long way, but perhaps the most basic first step, that can be overlooked, is to ensure that the driver has eyesight that is adequate for the task.
Our recent research has shown that nearly half (45%) of employers worry employees’ eyesight is not adequate for driving. This represents a concerning number whose employees – and company reputation – may be at risk.
The standards for driving vision are well-defined, but arguably, are not well enforced. The law states that drivers must be able to read, with glasses or contact lenses if necessary, a car number plate (of the new style made after 1 September 2001) from a distance of 20 metres. Most people are aware of the ‘number plate test’ as it is carried out on the day they undertake their practical driving test.
Drivers may not be aware, however, that the law states that they must also meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving by having a visual acuity of at least decimal 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale (with glasses or contact lenses if necessary). Drivers must also have an adequate field of vison, as ascertained through tests by an optician.
The problem is, firstly, that the number plate test only takes place once, at the very start of a driving career, and secondly, that the equivalent tests by an optician are not obligatory but the requirements must still be met. In practice, this means that most drivers may only be asked to prove that their eyesight is adequate after an incident has taken place.
Much of the issue may well be the perception that driver eyesight is the responsibility of the driver alone. While the law itself is lacking, the Health and Safety requirements are entirely prescriptive.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 makes it clear that employers have as much responsibility to those who drive for work purposes as they do for employees undertaking any other working task. The act obliges employers to: ‘take appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others who may be affected by their activities when at work. This includes the time when they are driving or riding at work, whether this is in a company or hired vehicle, or in the employee’s own vehicle.’
It is, therefore, part of the employer’s duty of care, to employees who drive in the course of their work, to ensure that every reasonable action has been taken towards their safety. This surely includes confirming that they are able to see adequately for the task.
Moreover, this duty of care relates to all drivers, whether they drive a company car and driving is their main or sole working task, or if they occasionally drive their own vehicle to the post office or an off-site meeting.
Employers would be wise to view driver eyesight as no less than a matter of joint responsibility.
If the law itself is confusing in how it actually relates to the individual taking eye tests, the HSE regulations at least are unambiguous. For the safety manager it may, at first, appear to be a minefield. The simple solution though is to provide eye care for all, in one blanket scheme.
This may seem an expensive way to ensure that drivers are covered but eye care is generally a low-cost provision and the additional benefits can far out way the initial overhead.
There are many added health benefits to eye care, above and beyond those of checking adequate vision. These include checking the health of the eyes but also the ability to detect the signs of other, wider health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, risk of stroke, etc.
Added to these positive health benefits, and the morale boost of offering a valued employee benefit, is the advantage of helping to ensure that drivers are fit for the task. Even if insurance covers the main costs of an accident, there are likely to be many additional expenses and uninsured loses. Of course, the cost to the company reputation and the individuals involved may be beyond monetary value.