Fleet News

Health and safety: the time for action is NOW

HEALTH and safety is the hot fleet topic of 2003. Fleet News has dedicated many column inches to the subject this year and the Government has made no bones about the fact that it is looking for a high-profile court case to press home its intentions.

So that fleets are in no doubt about what is expected of them, the Health and Safety Executive has now published its 'Driving At Work' booklet which sets out in simple language what steps should be taken.

Yet despite all this, a survey conducted among fleet decision-makers by cfc solutions has shown that 55% of Britain's fleets have yet to take any action at all to improve the safety of their drivers on the road.

The problem is that health and safety costs money – either cars will cost more or staff will become less productive. And many cash-strapped companies don't seem prepared to pay the price. But health and safety is no longer an option. Whether companies like it or not, they will be forced to comply with their obligations or face the prospect of heavy fines and even a prison sentence for a director.

If you are starting a new health and safety policy from scratch, it may appear to be a daunting task, but split it up into bite-sized chunks and the prospect doesn't seem so frightening. There are three main areas – vehicles, drivers and accidents – and each of these sections can be broken down into even smaller areas of concern. Take one step at a time and health and safety suddenly becomes a manageable topic.

Vehicles

Health and safety concerns start even before a vehicle is purchased. Make sure that each car fits each individual driver and is suited for the work they do. If, say, a driver covers 30,000 miles a year in the course of his employment, don't put him in something like a Ford Ka.

He will need a vehicle which is built for long-haul motorway cruising, or you could end up facing a civil court case for causing a bad back. Don't forget that Britain is fast becoming a 'sue-it-if-it-moves' culture and there are plenty of sharp-eyed lawyers who will help your driver with his claim.

The same can be said for loading and unloading samples and kit. On some estate cars, loads can easily be slid in and out of the back while others have a large lip. Once again, watch out for back pains.

Having settled on a particular vehicle, it is now time to think about paid-for options. All cars nowadays come with airbags, but should you also specify anti-lock brakes? If you decide to do so, make sure your drivers are trained properly in how to use them – it is amazing how many don't know. Many driver training firms offer ABS braking courses.

What about air conditioning? A cool driver in summer is a safer driver so don't dismiss such devices as unnecessary cossetting. Other safety-related extras you might seriously consider include reversing alarms (cheap and effective), heated windscreens (as offered by Ford) and telematics systems (more of which later).

Once your cars have arrived, make sure their recipients know exactly what is required of them in terms of maintenance. Tyres, oil and coolants should be checked weekly, for example, and failure to do so should be punishable in some way.

A canny fleet manager could organise surprise 'raids' on cars in the office car park in which it can be ascertained whether or not they are being maintained well. You won't be Mr Popularity among the workforce, but then, that's fleet business!

It is also essential that maintenance schedules are strictly adhered to. This is not just a matter of health and safety – a manufacturer's warranty will be made null and void if you miss a service.

Drivers

It is a sad fact that most company car drivers are handed the keys to a vehicle and left largely to their own devices. This is why so many are involved in accidents – and of course why this new focus on health and safety is taking place. Put simply, the current situation is just not good enough.

Each new employee should be asked firstly to produce a current driving licence (the original, not a photocopy) and licences should be checked at six-monthly intervals to make sure that endorsements have not crept on unknown. Also ask for a driving reference from a previous employer.

Next, take the employee out to the car park and give him an impromptu eye test. If he can't read a numberplate at 20.5 metres, send him to the optician's and don't let him drive until he can.

When you have satisfied yourself about the driver's optical competence, make sure he is handed a copy of your company drivers' handbook. You don't have a drivers' handbook? Shame on you.

A full instruction kit on how to create one is available on CD if you are a member of the Association of Car Fleet Operators. Call Janice Sears on 01730 260162 for more details.

One reason why many company car drivers crash is because they drive too fast or for too many hours. One sure way of stopping this is by fitting telematics devices to your cars.

There are many on the market nowadays and some are pretty sophisticated. They can be used in conjunction with a PC so the fleet manager can pinpoint where a car is at any particular moment, what speed it is travelling at and how long it is on the road. Thus, a fleet manager can catch any drivers using excessive speed or driving too many hours and take appropriate action.

Some drivers may gripe and mutter about a spy in the cab, but these are surely the ones who have something to hide? Hard-working, law-abiding staff should have no qualms about this wonderful safety device.

Next comes the thorny question of driver training. Firms which provide driver training will tell you it is essential and that the money spent on courses will be repaid over and over again as the number of crashes a fleet suffers falls.

But don't forget these firms have a vested interest and many fleet experts are sceptical. By all means look at driver training courses, but maybe either for younger drivers or for those who seem to suffer the most accidents. A blanket policy of driver training may be an unnecessary waste of money.

Accidents

Whatever measures you put in place to improve health and safety, the chances are that some of your drivers will still suffer accidents.

When they do happen, it is important that they are handled in the correct way.

Firstly, make sure all your cars come with a 'crash kit' which includes a torch, notepaper and pen, disposable camera and tape measure. Some cars have a first aid kit too, but beware of those involved in an accident making things worse by trying to play Florence Nightingale. Also make sure your drivers know about their responsibilities when it comes to reporting an accident.

The police must be informed if there are any injuries, for example.

When an accident has been reported to you, make sure you conduct your own inquiry.

Interview the driver concerned and ascertain whose fault the accident was, then make recommendations to his or her manager about disciplinary action or driver training.

Finally, it might be a decent gesture to inquire after the progress of any third parties injured in the accident and maybe offer assistance. Not only will this show the caring side of your company but it may also lessen any financial damages a judge may award against your firm in a future civil court case.

What to do now...

If the worst happens – an accident occurs and the police come knocking at your door – the first thing they will want to know is what you, the fleet manager, have done to improve your company's health and safety. Under those circumstances, you could do worse than produce the Fleet News health and safety guide – which you will have kept up-to-date.

While this document is by no means legally binding, it covers a number of the points you need to look at and leaves space for you to record any actions taken. Cut it out and keep it in your desk, filling in the relevant sections as you look at them. There is also a huge amount of free advice available regarding health and safety.

Below is an outline on where to get the information

There's no shortage of advice and information There is a wealth of information available on Fleet NewsNet, particularly in the Useful Stuff section. There are huge amounts of research and advice available from organisations involved in the fleet industry. Here are just a few:

  • The Health and Safety Executive's Driving At Work booklet can be downloaded from www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf
  • Management of work-related road safety – research report 018. Available from HSE Books Ref RR018. Cases studies can be viewed on www.hse.gov.uk/roadsafety/experience.htm
  • Managing Road Risk – An introductory guide for employers. Available from Brake at: brake@brake.org.uk or fleetsafetyforum @brake.org.uk. Tel: 01484 559909
  • Managing Occupational Road Risk. Available from The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). Tel: 0121 248 2000
  • Management of Occupational Road Risk. Available from Croner CCH Group, www.croner.cch.co.uk. Tel: 020 8547 3333
  • HSE website: www.hse.gov.uk
  • Department for Transport (DfT) website at www.dft.gov.uk/roadsafety, where there is specific information about driving at work and road safety and also at: DfT Road Safety Research Report No 31 'Company Vehicle Incident Reporting and Recording' at www.roads.dft.gov.uk/roadsafety/roadresearch/index.htm
  • Occupational Road Safety Alliance website at www.orsa.org.uk
  • For information on health and safety ring the HSE on 08701 545500 Fax: 02920 859260; e-mail: hseinformationservices@natbrit.com

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