Fleet News

Guest opinion: Taking risks over risk assessments

JEREMY Hay, chief executive of Risk Answers, warns that fleet risk assessments must be done properly, or they may be worthless.

'One of the things I remember when employed as a human resources director was that every time new legislation reached the statute book, an organisation would run a seminar on its implications.

It is a lucrative business running seminars and some of them are very good. However, I have recently seen seminars offering advice on how to be a fleet manager and risk assessor in a day.

I am sure that fleet managers everywhere, as well as professional risk assessors, will agree that it takes more than one day to learn their profession. Both jobs reflect an accumulation of knowledge, experience and professional qualifications over several years in aspects from fleet to people management, law and organisational behaviour.

As I have worked in both areas – fleet and risk – one of the things that fascinates me is if you do your own risk assessment and get it wrong, who indemnifies you and will it be classed as gross misconduct?

The Health and Safety Executive has defined the need to use a 'competent' company to carry out the task and not adopt a quick checklist approach – a technique that continues to be seen all too often when we go in to help prepare legal defences and it is nearly always too late.

Following a road accident involving a member of staff driving on corporate business, a police officer will undoubtedly arrive at your office as part of the investigation into the incident.

While undertaking routine checks in consultation with the fleet manager in the area of vehicle maintenance, the officer may ask to see the employee's contract of employment to establish the role that driving played in their job description. What expertise does a fleet manager have in terms of drafting or interpreting contracts of employment?

This is an area that is looked at as part of a professional risk assessment. But, if the fleet manager has omitted references to contracts of employment under their self-help risk assessment, does this mean that they are personally liable or is the company liable?

Fleet News has been running a campaign encouraging fleet managers to be fully trained across the wide range of areas that make up fleet operations. This should be fully supported by companies and individuals as the impact of running a professional fleet in the correct way can add thousands of pounds to a company's bottom line.

Risk assessment is not just about how the fleet is run, although that is a small part of the job. A risk assessment embraces the attitude of an organisation, the human costs, the contractual elements and most importantly to get the right results, the application of the whole strategy across the business.

Fleet decision-makers must recognise the scope of the problem and deal with it professionally. Risk assessment in employers' liability and fleet driving areas is now receiving equal attention from insurance companies and I can assure readers that insurers will not, over the next year or so, take kindly to self-help risk assessments being undertaken if it effects their liability.

Self-help is one thing, professional risk assessment and liability and indemnity is another.

As for those people reading this and saying to themselves 'he would write this, wouldn't he', don't be fooled by amateurs waving copies of the HSE's 'Driving at Work: managing work-related road safety' guidance.

The guidelines are very clear: the person who undertakes a risk assessment must be 'a competent person' with experience of fleet and risk and, in our world, they also should be prepared to except liability and indemnity.

Ask any lawyer if attending a one-day course qualifies you to take the full legal responsibility and indemnity for fleet risk recommendations across your company and particularly whether your liability insurers will indemnify you in the event of a prosecution or a claim arising from a bungled risk assessment.'

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