Fleet News

Guest opinion: Safety: you’ll need more than plaster

THE phrase ‘Corporate and Social Responsibility’ (CSR) has now crept into the world of fleet management but if you, as I often do, ask a group of fleet managers to define the essence of CSR, the basic response revolves around the need to manage the fleet safely and responsibly in order to avoid prosecution or civil actions.

This definition is not far from the mark. There is now a whole wealth of risk management products which scratch the surface of the problem trying to assist a fleet manager.

The problem comes in defining how and when the neglect of these responsibilities will come back and bite managers, directors and companies.

The concept of CSR began many years ago when the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 came into being.

Since then, the legislation concerning workplace activities has continued to develop, often encouraged by European directives. We have seen a rise in interest by the courts as a result of disasters and the development of a ‘blame culture’ has also created a wealth of litigation.

The simple sticking plaster solution adopted by most fleet managers is to develop a policy document to regulate the employee’s activities. This, by and large, is regarded by risk management experts as one of the six steps recommended in the work management regulations towards assessing a risk, developing a safety culture and subsequent monitoring.

A fleet manager, therefore, who merely buys a policy thinking this satisfies a company’s CSR, gives it to their drivers and then sits back and does nothing else is historically in the eyes of a judge in a worse position if something goes wrong than if he or she did not recognise there was a risk and did nothing at all.

Things have changed slightly over the last few years in the world of work-related road safety in that, since September 2003, a fleet manager is now deemed not only to be aware of, but to actually be implementing, the Health and Safety Executive guidelines on the management of work-related road safety.

Let’s us now look at the sort of legal quagmire in which a company can find itself if it fails to address its CSR obligations and a fatal accident occurs.

  • Corporate manslaughter: a non-statutory offence – that is to say that it is governed by previous case law rather than actual legislation. If you cannot find the individual or cannot prove the link, then a prosecution will fail, as was witnessed last month in the Hatfield prosecutions where it was found on a preliminary point that some of the defendants had no case to answer and the charge was dismissed.
  • Corporate killing: This new offence will be a statutory one – there will be legislation setting out exactly what needs to be proved for a prosecution to succeed.
  • Criminal prosecution: It is technically possible for a manager or director of a company to be charged with aiding and abetting a criminal offence. In the case of CSR, a company can already be prosecuted for a serious workplace accident where breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the many regulations can be used as evidence of default.
  • Civil claims: It is not uncommon for employees to sue employers where they have been injured in a work-related accident by relying upon health and safety legislation.
  • Addressing CSR: The cure for CSR is more than a sticking plaster. Fleet operators who wish to minimise the risk of prosecution are going to have to look at a root and branch approach involving both insurers and lawyers. Putting in place some risk management process is going to help but when the chips are down and you are facing a legal action, a lawyer would like some ammunition – evidence of proactivity – to mount a defence on your behalf.
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