Driver safety explained
It is an area that health and safety professionals may have left to fleet managers in the past, but the changing world of work means that occupational road risk is becoming an issue that can no longer be ignored. Richard Byrne explains.
Have you noticed over the past few years that there are more lorries and vans on the roads? According to the Department for Transport,1 road freight has increased by a staggering 76 per cent since 1980, while it also claims that the amount of van usage has increased by 40 per cent over a recent 10-year period.2 The number of cars on our roads is also increasing, as most families nowadays have at least two cars.
The HSE suggests that there could be as many as 20 fatal road-traffic accidents every week that involve people who are at work, as well as up to 250 road-traffic incidents that result in serious injuries.3 Because of the amount of time people spend behind the wheel, the next fatality in most companies is likely to be a result of a work-related road traffic accident, rather than an accident in a ‘traditional’ workplace.
Holes in the law
Most of the time health and safety professionals will try to make a compelling business case for health and safety improvements, based on legal compliance, financial benefit and moral justification. But in the area of work-related road safety, there appears to be gaping holes in the law.
Both the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act (HSWA) 1974 and the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 only cover ‘fixed’ and ‘defined’ workplaces, and not a moving vehicle, unless that vehicle is in the defined work area.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995 also add to the confusion by requiring the employer to report only a small number of work-related road accidents — those involving vehicles carrying dangerous goods — a point noted by the HSE.4
Although the Police can prosecute employers who encourage their drivers to break the law, there may be a lack of understanding among forces with respect to employers’ health and safety requirements, and when to involve other enforcing authorities to assist in a more joined-up investigation.
The Road Traffic Act, of course, details the requirements for drivers to pass a driving test, including both theoretical and practical elements, as well as obligations imposed on vehicle operators through the operators’ or ‘O’ licence.
But the ‘O’ licence only covers large vehicles, not cars or vans. Compounding the problem is that ‘O’-licence issues tend to be dealt with by the fleet manager in isolation, so the whole issue of work-related road safety can fall between the two stools of fleet management, and health and safety.
The HSE argues that, other than for large vehicles, there is little motivation for employers or the enforcing authorities to determine whether a failure in the company’s health and safety management systems contributed to a road-traffic incident.4
This is hardly surprising given that the HSWA was written in the early 1970s when work-related road safety was not as significant an issue as it is today. Given the changing world of work we find ourselves in, the Act is now clearly dated.5
The Department for Transport introduced a campaign in 2000 entitled ‘Tomorrow’s roads — safer for everyone’,6 which aimed to curb the growing number of road-traffic deaths and serious injuries in the UK. The ongoing programme covers areas such as child road safety, testing, and interventions on drink, drugs and drowsiness. However, the Department appears not to have engaged the health and safety profession, either through guidance or legislation.
And, although the HSE has published guidance on how to manage occupational road risk,3 it has stated that it will not be pursuing the issue with any great vigour.7
Is it any wonder, therefore, that few organisations take work-related road safety seriously? Indeed, a search on Google for ‘occupational road risk’ generates more than 200,000 site results, compared with almost 10 million for ‘occupational safety’ — a clue to how it is perceived! It feels like this is a forgotten area of health and safety, yet this is not an unwieldy beast to tame. The key tools needed to identify and manage the risk are the same as they are for managing vehicle movements on any site.
In an ideal world, the risks from driving to and from business meetings could be virtually eliminated by the use of more teleconferencing and videoconferencing. However, these methods are not always practical. A company will still need to transport the goods it sells to its customers, and, while more effective route planning may reduce the time people are exposed to the risk, it will not be completely eliminated.
Unsurprisingly, the first step in managing occupational road risk is to undertake a risk assessment. But with such a large topic area to consider, where does one start? The factors that generally need to be considered are broken down into three main areas: the driver; the vehicle; and the journey.
There are some obvious factors to consider when it comes to assessing the driver and they’re similar to those asked by insurance companies when quoting cover: do they hold a licence for the class of vehicle they are driving; how much experience do they have?; how many penalty points have they incurred?; and how many incidents have they been involved in? Moreover, it would be sensible for the driver to undertake a driving familiarisation session to ensure that what they say matches their skills.
Remember, however, that it would be foolhardy to ignore the rest of the driver population judged to be medium or low risk. It would be a move towards best practice to give driver training to everyone and not just those who have to drive for work purposes. Obviously, cost is an important factor in determining what form of training people will receive, but it could be something as straightforward as a topic covered on their induction, with refreshers carried out annually.
In basic terms, the answers given to these questions will help determine the risk level posed by the driver. There are no agreed risk matrices on this issue and, to that end, organisations are left to work out what they feel is acceptable. It may be that if someone has had a bump and only a few years’ experience they are classed as ‘high’ risk.
More precise risk-modelling is available in the form of PC-based risk-assessment software that asks the driver a series of questions and includes various hazard-spotting exercises. But for companies new to the management of occupational road risk, it may be easier to use other methods to help build the business case before going for the ‘Rolls Royce’ approach.
If your road-risk policy is to be successful, safety professionals need to work closely with the people that procure their company’s vehicles, and ensure that the specification includes safety features. With commercial vehicles, for example, considerations might include satellite navigation systems (SatNavs) or CCTV to aid reversing.
But people can become over-reliant on safety features and grow complacent, leading them to take extra risks. One example of this involved a driver, who rolled down a hill into a car-parking space and hit a small wall. The driver was under the impression the parking sensor didn’t work. It did, but only when the driver engaged reverse gear and not while he was freewheeling!
There are also risks with SatNavs, especially in the tendency for drivers to focus on their screen rather than paying adequate attention to the road. Similarly, with regard to CCTV for reversing purposes, drivers can rely too much on the monitor and ignore their side mirrors, limiting their vision.
Safety devices are important, but people must be trained in both their safe use, and their limitations.
It is widely acknowledged that motorways tend to be less risky to drive on than roads in built-up areas, and this sort of factor needs to be built into the risk assessment. The time of day that the journey takes place can also impact on risk. Those driving through the night, for example, will be at particular risk, especially between the hours of 2 and 5am, when the body is ‘programmed’ to sleep.
Another factor surrounds drivers’ familiarity with their journey — the less familiar they are the more likely they will run into problems. There is, however, a counter argument to this, in that most accidents occur within a mile of the driver’s home. Ultimately, the message should be the same: driving is an activity that demands our utmost attention — each journey is different, even if the driver has done it a thousand times.
There is a huge number of control measures that can be adopted to reduce the risks associated with driving for work. Generally, they do not fit neatly into one of the above factors.
Terms & conditions of employment
What if the risk assessment shows that the driver is classed as high risk? If practitioners determine this at the pre-employment stage, they may simply decide not to hire the individual on the grounds of safety, but would they terminate someone’s employment if they were high risk and had been involved in two incidents for which they were to blame?
Many companies operate such ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policies, but in order to make these workable they need the support of colleagues in human resources and operational management.
Many organisations also decide that all drivers of company vehicles should undertake a driver-training programme, which teaches them defensive driving techniques and similar useful tools.
However, if you were to roll this out across a huge driver population it would cost a great deal of money and time to make sure everyone was covered. What might make more sense is to be more risk-focused, e.g. only those drivers judged to be high risk from the risk assessment are enrolled on such a programme. This makes it more likely that the training can be tailored to the individual needs of each driver.
Currently, car drivers only have their eyesight tested on their driving test, when they are asked to read a registration plate from 20 metres. Licence-holders for large goods vehicles are periodically required to pass a medical, with the time between medicals reducing as the person gets older.
While this covers part of the driving population, it misses out the remaining groups. For these individuals, it may be sufficient to ensure that their eyesight has not deteriorated to a point where it compromises their safety and that of others while driving. Eyesight screening programmes can be set at minimal cost, and can often be linked to services already offered, as required under the Display Screen Equipment Regulations.
These are a great way by which all key stakeholders can give company vehicle drivers all the information they need — whether it is the fleet manager, HR or the health and safety professional. Typically, they cover things like general driving dos and don’ts, and how to report an incident. In order to increase the chances of someone reading it, contents should be kept to a minimum.
Drugs and alcohol screening
Although it is illegal in the UK to drive while under the influence of certain drugs, and while above a certain blood-alcohol limit, surely it is better to implement a programme to identify people who may have a problem in this area, and help them, rather than wait for an incident to occur. Such programmes, however, can be difficult to set up, owing to people often viewing such tests as an invasion of their privacy.
Testing should be part of an overall drugs and alcohol policy. Firms should at least consider implementing such a policy that encompasses safety-critical roles like driving. Needless to say, as with all policies, communication is important. Make sure the following questions are addressed: Why is the programme important? How will it affect people? What help is available if you have a drug and/or alcohol problem?8
The concept of formal vehicle inspections is not new to health and safety professionals. It is recommended they are carried out on various pieces of equipment, not least forklift trucks, and the same recommendation should apply for work-related road risk.
To an extent, it would be easier to implement such programmes for large goods vehicles and pool cars, but what about company cars used for both business and private use? It could be argued that the most sensible approach would be to leave company car pre-use inspections until the culture of the business towards occupational road risk has matured.
There is also the potential that people would simply ‘tick the box’ to say they had checked the item and it was in working order. There is therefore a great opportunity for organisations to advance their safety cultures by getting line managers to audit the pre-use checks, as well as regularly challenging drivers on any unreported damaged.
As with many health and safety risk-control strategies, regular communication is vital, and it is no different with managing work-related road safety. With drivers of commercial vehicles it could be difficult to get them together to deliver a briefing face to face, given their different start and finish times. However, a useful way round this is to produce a driver bulletin, which can be attached to drivers’ daily route cards.
All such communications should be timely, snappy and relevant. Examples include: reminding drivers about how to drive safely in winter weather; and to take extra care while driving in built-up areas during school holidays etc.
The scale of the problem associated with occupational road risk may have passed undetected because the standard set of occupational health and safety performance indicators do not include vehicle collisions or claims made against a company’s motor insurance.
In order to determine both the scale of the problem and future performance post-interventions, such performance indicators are important. Typically, there may be a small amount of variance in the number of incidents reported, but over time these will decrease, as will the total cost of claims.
Work-related road safety has not been a mainstream health and safety issue in the past and, while there are clear incentives for logistics companies to manage the problem, there are few in the majority of firms.
The topic is an easy one to deal with, as health and safety professionals already possess the general skills required. The benefits of managing occupational road risk, especially in terms of financial gain for companies, are huge. Plus, in certain cases, many insurance companies are likely to be happy to ‘help out’ with the cost of interventions, as it will reduce the chance of them making pay-outs in the future.
1 Department for Transport, (2007): Transport trends 2006 Edition. HMSO: Norwich
2 Department for Transport, (2005): Transport Statistics Bulletin — Survey of van activity: 2004. HMSO: Norwich
3 HSE, (2003): Driving at work — managing work-related road safety (INDG382). HSE Books: Sudbury
4 The Work-related Road Safety Task Group, (2001): Reducing at-work road traffic incidents. HMSO: Norwich
5 James, P. (2006): The changing world of work: an exploration of its implications for work-related harm, in Policy & Practice in Health and Safety, vol. 1 pp 3—15
6 Department for Transport, (2000): Tomorrow’s roads — safer for everyone, available at: www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/strategytargetsperformance/tomorrowsroadssaferforeveryone
7 HSE’s work-related
road safety homepage, available at: www.hse.gov.uk/roadsafety/index.htm
8 Byrne, R. (2007): The drugs don’t work, SHP September 2007,
With employees who drive for business more likely to be killed at work than deep sea divers or coal miners, driver safety is a vital business consideration.
Download this eBook from Driving for Better Business and SHP to cover:
- The danger of the roads;
- Comparing road safety in the UK to the rest of Europe;
- Decreasing risk: Avoiding accidents;
- Road safety best practice;
- What is fleet risk?
- Managing work-related road safety.