Fleet News

Safety: Act now before it's too late

GOVERNMENT figures reveal that about four million employees drive a van occasionally and 240,000 drive for the majority of their time at work.

However, with just 14% of companies having a total vehicle risk management strategy, encompassing driver training where applicable, the likelihood is that the vast majority of van drivers have not undergone any type of risk assessment.

The Government-appointed Work-related Road Safety Task Group has calculated that of the 320,283 people involved in road traffic incidents in 2000, up to a third involved people at work.

It is a fair bet that given the increasing volume of vans on the UK's roads, many of those accidents involved van drivers. The group's report - 'Reducing at-work road traffic incidents' - published last year revealed that in 1999 7,478 crashes between cars and light goods vehicles were recorded, resulting in 47 car occupants dying and nine van occupants.

Any lcv manager reading this article could find one of their drivers becoming the next statistic in the fatalities column. But what can they do to avoid such an eventuality? For those companies which do not have a total vehicle risk management strategy in place, the writing is on the wall. And, warn risk management experts, the mentality of van drivers in low salaried/high turnover jobs is vastly different from typically white collar company car drivers.

The group's report falls short of calling for a driving test for occupational drivers in addition to the statutory driving test. Instead it prefers to call on the police and Health & Safety Executive to get tough in using existing legislation to convict drivers, company directors and companies involved in accidents.

Professor Peter Cooke, head of the Centre for Automotive Industries Management at Nottingham Business School, said: 'It is likely that in the next six to 12 months there will be a high profile court case in which the police or Health & Safety Executive will take the relevant main board director of a blue chip company to court for an issue associated with the company van.'

And van fleet managers do not just need to be aware of road traffic law but also legislation such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR), the Health and Safety at Work Act, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and Working Time Regulations, which while not specifically including van driving hours, should act as guidelines.

Legal experts say the legislation is in place to improve road safety among van drivers and David Faithful, solicitor and partner in leading insurance solicitor Amery-Parkes and a non-executive director of total vehicle risk management company Risk Answers, said: 'Employers looking to implement best practice in risk assessments required under MHSWR, and considering what would be reasonably practicable to minimise the risk to an employee's health and safety under the HSWA, should seek guidance from the WTR requirements in the areas of recording employees' hours and requiring them to take breaks.'

Faithful said that because a commercial vehicle was a 'purely occupational vehicle' – as opposed to a company car – it was likely that the courts would rule that it was covered by existing health and safety legislation.

'The difference between a light goods vehicle and a company car is that the primary purpose of a light goods vehicle is for use as an occupational vehicle and is consequently a workplace for the purpose of the legislation,' he said.

Nevertheless, the Task Group has left the door open for new regulations if companies don't put their own houses in order. For example, it did look at whether the operator licensing system should be extended to include vans.

Legislation minefield

Against such a legislation-packed minefield, what should light van fleet managers do to reduce fleet risk liability?

Driver training is part of the overall risk management strategy which should be adopted. Graham Griffiths, chief executive of DriveTech (UK), said: 'Compulsory driver training should be considered for employees with accident records but only once they have shown loyalty to the company. In addition, specialist training might be required. This might cover the handling of the vehicle because it may alter depending on the loads carried and where they are in the vehicle.

'Employers should also give specific training on loading techniques and vehicle performance when loaded.'

However, in many cases van driving is a low salary, high staff turnover industry and corporate driver development experts are united in calling on companies to assess driving ability at job interview stage.

Griffiths said: 'Drivers should undergo either a practical assessment or use a CD-Rom. Fleets must develop a culture within the organisation of caring for staff and if that is undertaken at interview stage it is likely that the new recruit will take a more responsible attitude.'


Paul Catlin, managing director of Prodrivelive, said: 'It not cost-effective to train many of these people when they are first employed. Psychometric tests could be used at interview to assess whether the individual is aggressive or not, for example. We can train line managers in assessing techniques so they can spot danger signs and possible rogue drivers. If an employee stays for more than six months then a training course maybe applicable.'

Catlin also suggested fleets stay away from operating white vans, as drivers often live up to the hooligan reputation of 'white van man'. Managers should also issue advice on sleep patterns and diet, check driving licences frequently and randomly and place stickers on vehicle dashboards reminding employees of key driver requirements.

Drive & Survive, which undertakes specialist van driver training courses, calculates that as well as driver training resulting in reduced insurance costs, vehicle downtime, replacement van hire etc, fuel savings of up to 12% can be achieved, along with reductions in maintenance costs and improvements in vehicle residual values.

'It's a special training culture to get drivers to accept the virtues of 'awareness with responsibility' and all the fringe benefits, like reduced fuel consumption,' said Drive & Survive spokesman Steve Johnson.

'But driver training is not a panacea for all ills. It rarely works in isolation and should be viewed as one element of a wider risk management strategy.'

Administratively, the first step is to try and reduce journeys and - where trips are made - to ensure they are planned efficiently.

'Occupational drivers are at greater risk of being involved in an incident,' said Faithful. 'Employers are putting their employees in a high risk environment often with little thought as to how the risk of an accident can be minimised.'

Therefore, recording employees' hours and requiring drivers to take breaks - laid down in the Working Time Regulations - should be included in any risk strategy. Some fleets have installed telematic systems or 'black boxes' to monitor drivers' hours and ensure compliance with risk strategy, particularly if vehicles are driven by a variety of drivers.

Catlin said: 'Black boxes can be useful in providing data for management decisions. It can spot rogue drivers and can produce time sheets. It can aid 'defence' in the event of an accident. It can log which drivers were driving a particular vehicle at any given time. It can help improve efficiency by improving routes and delivery structure, avoiding areas of congestion.'

Risk assessors also advise that the layout and use of the vehicle must be considered by employers before it joins the fleet. In addition vehicle ergonomics should be considered in respect of seating and driving positions as inadequate attention could result in injury. Faithful added: 'This is particularly relevant where a number of people drive a particular vehicle.'

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