HEALTH and Safety Executive officials revealed new guidance on work-related road safety yesterday, naming fleet managers as the key to changing the way employers and suppliers treat safety.
Industry experts are predicting the guidance will spark a revolution in the safety standards among Britain's fleets and their suppliers.
It has been estimated that up to a third of all road traffic accidents involve somebody who is at work at the time. This may account for over 20 fatalities and 250 serious injuries every week.
Within the 24-page guide is a checklist of nearly 100 areas that fleets need to examine to be certain they are meeting their duty of care to employees.
Produced with the Department for Transport, it contains guidance for employers on their responsibility for managing work-related road safety under existing health and safety law.
It also reveals the benefits of managing work-related road safety and outlines best practice examples of managing work-related road safety.
How to assess risks for driving activities and how to evaluate the risk are also covered. Production of generic guidance was one of the recommendations of an independent work-related road safety task group which was appointed by Government and HSE in 2000 to look at ways to reduce at-work traffic incidents.
Putting fleet managers at the heart of the campaign for change, an HSE spokesman said: 'This guidance will be particularly helpful to those with responsibility for fleet management and any employer, manager or supervisor with staff who drive or ride a motorcycle or bicycle at work.
'This guidance reminds employers of their general duties under health and safety law to protect workers, and for safeguarding others put at risk by their work activities, at all times. This includes when they are driving at work.
'The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to carry out a risk assessment and take appropriate action to reduce risks as much as is reasonably practical. Risks to those on the road should be assessed in the same way as those in the workplace.'
The guidance is nothing more than practical advice, the department insists and does not have legal status, but it is backed by a string of laws that would allow employers to be prosecuted.
The spokesman added: 'Some employers believe, incorrectly, that provided they comply with certain road traffic law requirements, for example having a valid MOT certificate, or if drivers hold a valid licence, that this is enough to ensure the safety of their employees, and others, when they are on the road.
'However, health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities, and the risks should be effectively managed within a health and safety management system.'
Areas fleets need to consider range from checking driving licences before employees are handed a car, to ensuring vehicles are properly serviced and that drivers are not put under pressure to break the law to carry out their jobs.
The move was welcomed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which has led a six-year campaign on the management of occupational road risk, which called for more Government resources to be put into improving work-related road safety.
It has also helped to set up the Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ORSA) – a group of more than 60 organisations working to raise awareness.
Jeremy Hay, director of risk audit firm Risk Answers, said: 'All fleets should obtain a copy of the guidance to compare with their current assessments and policies. The enforcing authorities will hold the guide up as best practice. Any fleet which fails to act is, in the event of an at-work driving accident, likely to face criminal prosecution and a civil claim for damages by an injured employee and third party.'
Read the guide
The guidance is published in leaflet form and is a free publication. There will be a small charge for bulk orders to cover postage and packing but it can be downloaded by clicking here.
Dealers under the spotlight
DEALERS, bodyshops, contract hire and leasing companies, fast-fits and fleet management companies will be put under the health and safety spotlight by the new guidance.
The guide says at-work driving health and safety policies should include measures to ensure maintenance and repairs are carried out to an acceptable standard and to check that planned/preventative maintenance is carried out in accordance with manufacturers' recommendations.
It adds that an MoT certificate only checks for basic defects and does not guarantee the safety of a vehicle.
David Faithful, a non-executive director of vehicle risk management company Risk Answer and a solicitor and partner in leading insurance solicitors Amery-Parkes, said: 'Fleets will want to know that technicians employed by dealers, bodyshops and fast-fit companies are qualified to undertake the work they are being asked to perform.
'If a vehicle is leased or under fleet management the onus will be on leasing and fleet management companies to ensure their suppliers are using properly qualified vehicle technicians.
'In turn every supplier who works on a vehicle should keep a detailed record of the work carried out so they can produce evidence in the event of police investigations following a road traffic accident.'
In sanctioning any work the vehicle owner should ensure that repair and maintenance work meets approved criteria.
Crucially the guidance also applies to the use of privately-owned cars on business trips. Employers could be liable if employees use their own vehicle on company business and it is found not to be roadworthy.
Faithful's comments follow a landmark High Court ruling that a Manchester garage was to blame for a crash that left a man dead and a woman in a wheelchair.
The court found that a Transit van in which the two people were travelling had been booked into the garage for a service two days before the accident.
Following the accident the van's rear offside brakes were found to be seriously defective and were almost certainly in that state when the garage serviced the vehicle.
As a result the garage was fully liable to compensate the van's owner, who survived the road accident, for her injuries. The amount of compensation has yet to be announced.