Fleet News

Special feature: Safety made simple – from a man who knows

IF there is one person who should know about health and safety standards, it is John Lennox, head of transportation at the British Standards Institute Group.

The organisation creates international safety standards, most famously the highly-acclaimed Kitemark. But when it comes to UK fleets, BSI claims many fall short on health and safety cover.

Lennox says more must be done to protect drivers while they are behind the wheel for work purposes. Any fleet manager introducing a health and safety policy should first carry out a thorough risk assessment.

Lennox says: 'This does not need to cost a lot and can be carried out internally, using simple risk assessment forms. Inexpensive professional help is also available.' According to Lennox the benefits for fleets introducing a risk assessment are vast.

They include:

  • Improved safety culture
  • A reduction in accidents and incidents and associated costs
  • Improved reliability
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Less stress
  • Increased motivation and productivity.

    'Too many fleets do not put any health and safety policies into place until it is too late,' says Lennox.

    Yet introducing a policy doesn't have to be complex.

    Fleets of any size should keep their policy simple, involve staff and make sure the system is fully implemented.

    'It can be too easy to say that because there have been no incidents reported, no action is necessary. You may simply have been lucky up until now,' reckons Lennox. 'A full review of what is going on in the fleet can be enhanced by input from the sharp end. Involve your staff in the review and get them to share their ideas on where they see potential risks.

    'Nobody understands the day-to-day issues and challenges that they face better than they do. It might just be that they throw up something you have overlooked, or were not aware of,' he adds.

    The most basic fleet policies should cover vehicle safety, maintenance, driver awareness, training and operational safety.

    But implementing a system is not enough for fleet directors to know that it is effective. They need to carry out robust audits on a regular basis.

    'Keep good records and act on reviews, measuring progress through simple trend analysis and benchmarking. More importantly, make sure the results are made clear to those they affect. This way, people can see that action is being taken and know where they or their unit fit into the system.'

    Audits should be done according to the type of business and size of the fleet. On average, this should be every three to six months.

    'The audits should be carried out by an independent person. It can be useful to have fresh eyes looking at the operation. Make sure there is an audit trail that has all the important things documented and where you can prove that everything has been done to prevent an incident,' says Lennox. 'Also ensure you have a process of continuous improvement. This makes good sense in terms of safety and business.'

    Once a health and safety policy has been introduced, the fleet manager must ensure drivers adhere to it.

    It is vital to have good management systems in place, monitor the policy through audits and relay information back to staff and managers.

    It can be a burden for fleets to get employees who use their own vehicle for business mileage, or have purchased a vehicle under a cash-for-car scheme, to comply with health and safety regulations.

    But Lennox believes private car drivers should be treated the same as company car drivers.

    'The company gives them an allowance and they drive on company business. A company cannot abdicate its responsibility just because it doesn't own the asset. The cash-for-car option is a good thing to have on the menu, but it does need to be managed,' he says.

    Fleet managers need to ensure key rules are written into contracts to ensure health and safety regulations are complied with. These should include minimum vehicle standards, required insurance levels, licence checks, regular servicing, safety check records, age of vehicle and recovery and breakdown arrangements.

    By adopting a thorough health and safety policy, fleets will be adequately covered in the event of an accident and regular audits will minimise the risk of prosecution.

    Those who fail to introduce policies risk losing or injuring an employee, and ultimately a fine or prison sentence.

    Lennox said: 'The worst that could happen is that someone gets killed or seriously injured.

    'The implications are profound. The wider impact on the business and its directors and managers, moves us into the area of culpability. Questions will be asked as to whether an accident could have been prevented; if systems were in place or not; and whether these were being managed properly or ignored.'

    In addition, there's the possibility of civil litigation.

    To summarise, Lennox said it is vital for fleets to:

  • Complete a risk assessment
  • Introduce rigid policies immediately if not already in place and ensure these incorporate all employees, including user choosers
  • Ensure audit trails are up to date and drivers are complying with the policy. Otherwise, a high profile prosecution may only be a matter of time.

    To name and shame or not

    Some industry figures have backed naming and shaming techniques for drivers not complying with policies. John Lewis, director general of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) suggested last year that drivers continually racking up penalties for parking and congestion charge fines should be named and shamed. (Fleet NewsNet, November 13, 2003).

    But Lennox doesn't think that this hardline approach would work with all drivers who fail to comply with their company's health and safety policies.

    He says: 'I don't believe fines work. They might even discourage people from participating in the proper reporting of incidents. All occurrences should be out in the open and dealt with to prevent any recurrence.'

    Issues to consider when introducing a fleet policy

  • Is there a policy on the use of mobile phones and other technical equipment? This should also be made available to others who tend to phone drivers, sometimes forgetting they are behind the wheel.
  • How do you control driving and working time?
  • Do you have a policy on drivers taking breaks and preventing tiredness?
  • What are the company rules and policy for drivers caught speeding?
  • Do you have a driver training policy?
  • Do you check driver licences and insurance (if non-company) regularly?
  • What is the fleet safety and maintenance policy?
  • How do drivers report defects?
  • Are the vehicles you use fit for the purpose that they are being put to?
  • How do you monitor and continually improve the above action points?

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