LEX Vehicle Leasing has just produced The Rough Guide To Vans, a booklet giving tips to LCV operators on how to run their fleets more efficiently. In the first of a new series, author Peter McSean gives some timely advice on health and safety.
Driving a light commercial vehicle is a dangerous occupation, as these three facts show:
Every year 3,400 people die on UK roads and another 40,000 are seriously injured.
According to the Work-related Road Safety Task Group, between one-quarter and one-third of these incidents involve someone who was on work-related business at the time.
Company drivers who cover more than 25,000 miles per year are in the highest risk group for fatal at-work accidents, according to safety campaigners at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
The high mileage and pressures of van driving make those who drive them for a living particularly vulnerable, so what can be done to make it safer?
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, every business has a 'duty of care' to its staff when they are at work. 'At work' does not just mean at the factory or office; it also means when someone is driving on behalf of your business. This applies to anyone representing your business – employees, casual staff and freelances – whether they are in a company vehicle or their own. Failing in duty of care can result in heavy fines for the company.
The Government is deeply concerned that employers are not taking their duty of care seriously enough and plans to publish a draft bill on corporate manslaughter. The timetable for legislation will be announced later this year but its aim is to make it easier to prosecute negligent companies. The Government has made it clear that 'the criminal liability of individual directors will not be targeted by the proposals' and that 'no new burdens will be placed on companies which already comply fully with health and safety legislation'.
Safety tips for managers
The first step is to identify the risks. Three important areas covered by a risk assessment of a fleet and its drivers are:
Types of journey being undertaken
Factors that affect driver safety
Factors that affect vehicle safety
A risk assessment is vital for a company to fulfil its obligations to its drivers. It can be a complicated process, since it involves looking at every aspect of driver and vehicle safety. We cannot offer a blueprint here, but the following are some of the important questions commonly asked as part of a risk assessment:
Is it possible to reduce the number of journeys being made?
Are drivers' journey schedules planned as well as they could be?
What is the maximum number of hours a driver should drive in one day?
What is the maximum number of hours a driver should cover before taking a break?
When should the provision of an overnight stop for a driver be automatic?
How often are drivers' licences checked?
What level of driver training and assessment is given?
What level of advice on packing, securing and weighing loads is given?
What training is given on operating loading equipment?
Do all drivers have the right vehicle for the type of driving they do?
Are all drivers fit to drive – eyesight, for instance, and stress levels?
What is being done to ensure all vehicles are properly maintained, roadworthy and correctly insured?
How are accidents – from parking scrapes to serious crashes – monitored and how is that information being used to reduce the accident rate?
Do drivers understand the dangers of using mobile phones while driving?
Do drivers understand the dangers of driving while tired?
Do drivers understand the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (both legal and illegal)?
Do drivers understand the dangers of excessive speed?
Does the company have a written road safety policy?
Is there a company driver safety handbook and does every driver have a copy of it?
Safety tips for drivers
Like their employers, drivers have a responsibility for ensuring their vehicles are roadworthy, legal and properly insured. That should include regular and frequent inspections of tyres, brakes, fluid levels, lights and so on. If you're unsure of what should be checked, and when, consult the manufacturer's handbook and/or your fleet manager.
Similarly, no matter how many policies a company has on the subject, driver safety ultimately comes down to the driver's own actions. The Fleet Safety Forum offers the following advice to drivers:
Take breaks somewhere safe (never on the hard shoulder) every two hours, or sooner if you feel sleepy.
Stop for at least 15 minutes. Try to snooze if you feel sleepy.
Limit your sleeping time to a maximum of 15 minutes or you will fall into a state commonly known as deep sleep. Deep sleep can occur after just a quarter of an hour and leaves your levels of alertness impaired for longer upon waking. Only drive on if you feel alert.
Research has found that drinking a strong caffeine drink or two before having a snooze can help you be more alert after you wake up. By the time you wake up, the caffeine has kicked in. However, drugs are no substitute for sleep and cannot, on their own, enable you to stay awake for long.
Never try to tackle sleepiness by carrying on driving, turning up the radio or winding down the window. These measures do not work.
Research shows that drivers know when they are sleepy. Listen to your body and if you experience symptoms of sleepiness (eg heavy eyelids, yawning) you must stop.
It is important to keep a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. This should be extended to four seconds in wet weather or poor visibility. This is your braking space in a crisis. In poor visibility, never hang on to the lights of the vehicle in front. You will be too close for safety and not reading the road for yourself.