Fleet News

Special report: when health and safety takes to the road

THE DfT has commissioned a report about how to shift workplace health and safety on to the road. We present the key points

The Department for Transport report, Safety Culture and Work-Related Road Accidents, put together by Bomel, has a central theme of how safety culture in the workplace can be used to reduce occupational road risk (ORR).

The Government's aim is to achieve a 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents by 2010, compared to the 1994-98 average, as part of its Road Safety Strategy.

The report states: 'There is evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of road accidents involve someone who was 'at work' at the time of the accident, so clearly this group must be engaged if the targets are to be achieved.

'There is a clear need to establish which cultural factors have an important influence on ORR, how these relate to driver attitudes and how companies, the DfT and other stakeholders can best address these issues in order to bring about improvement and reduce the risk of at-work road accidents.'

The report cites other areas of business in which safety is a key element of the culture of working, such as nuclear, petrochemical and aviation industries, and suggests that often in road safety the focus has not been concentrated in the same way.

It says that instead of centering on the organisation as a whole to promote safer practices, individuals have been targeted.

'Traditionally, driver safety has focused on the individual and the vehicle.

'However, this neglects the context in which drivers at work are operating and does not reflect the system's approach which underpins modern human factors sciences in relation to general safety matters and accident causation.

'Organisational safety culture can be thought of as the way in which companies 'think' and act towards safety and the safety systems they have.'

Study recommends eight-point plan of action

The following recommendations were made based on the findings of the current study:

  • The DfT, companies and other stakeholders should consider aspects of safety culture when addressing work-related road safety issues, in particular, training, procedures, planning, incident management/feedback, management/supervision and safety communications.

  • Companies should be aware that by improving safety culture they can improve the safety attitudes of drivers remote from the fixed workplace and that this, in turn, is likely to influence road accident involvement.

  • Companies should consider improving incident reporting and feedback as a way to learn from driving incidents and these systems should be tailored specifically for use with on-road incidents
  • Companies should acknowledge that car driving carries risks as well as the driving of larger vehicles and that there may be considerable lessons from managing van operations which can be applied to improve car driving safety
  • There should be emphasis on persuading smaller companies of the significance of ORR and the benefits to be gained from addressing the issues, while at the same time appreciating that large companies may share some of the weaknesses shown by smaller firms

  • Although a range of factors may need to be assessed depending on individual companies, for van drivers fatigue, planning and management/ supervision should warrant consideration, as should pressure, training, incident management and communications for car drivers
  • In terms of assessing ORR, companies should look at how component parts of culture (eg training, procedures, planning, incident management) apply to driving safety. They should assess their own areas of weakness and strength and they should develop improvement measures as appropriate.
  • Drivers should be consulted on problem areas and solutions to ensure that driving risk management is likely to be effective. Employee representative bodies should be used to help bring about influence

    Common issues for company car drivers

    The report interviewed a number of fleet drivers in a bid to find commonality in the way they went about at-work driving. It found a number of themes kept recurring and summarised them as follows:

  • Journeys are undertaken with little if any conscious thought to safety
  • There was a general lack of appreciation towards certain car driving safety rules or indeed the need for any
  • Car drivers in all companies mentioned schedules as a primary source of driving pressure, usually with negative consequences on driving
  • The majority of car drivers flagged tiredness as an issue, with loss of concentration being a common side-effect. For many of the high-mileage car drivers, training was either desirable or had been of benefit.
  • Incident reporting/feedback was commonly one of the weakest areas relating to occupational car driving. Reporting requirements were often unclear and feedback was either patchy or absent

    Accurate figures are a problem

    Getting hold of figures for the number of at-work road accidents is part of the problem when it comes to health and safety on the road, because there is no official means to report them.

    Although the Work-Related Road Safety Task Group proposed that the Health and Safety Executive should consider extending the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) to include at-work driving accidents as far back as 2001, this has never happened.

    As a result, managing road safety is proving extremely difficult, because it cannot be accurately measured. The report says: 'A preliminary look at the available data demonstrated that RIDDOR data is currently of little use for analysing work-related road accidents. Most types of accidents on the road are exempt from RIDDOR reporting and therefore only a small proportion of road accidents are captured by the HSE.

    'Indeed the HSE's jurisdiction does not generally extend beyond the fixed workplace and the police are the enforcers on the highway. Furthermore, due to the way in which RIDDOR data is coded, it is not immediately clear how any road accidents which are reported might be classified.'

    Another avenue of reporting accidents looked at by the report's authors was obtaining data from insurance companies on fleets, although this has also proved difficult.

    He said: 'Insurance companies clearly have a vested interest in ORR and were identified as a potential source of data to help better understand the scale of the problem. In pursuit of such data, contacts were made with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and with the motor risk manager in one of the leading insurance companies in Great Britain.

    'It was found that insurance companies generally collect information on the type of road accident, along with certain information on causes and the associated costs. It also became apparent that there is no central pool of insurance data that is readily accessible and could be used to help measure ORR.

    'Given these limitations, insurance companies do not seem to be in a position to add to the understanding of the ORR profile or the efficacy of corporate controls to reduce risk.'

    What causes company car drivers to crash?

    There are few surprises in this area of the publication. As has been cited on numerous occasions, 'work stress and pressure' were consistently mentioned as likely influences on ORR. The report said: 'There are stresses directly related to commercial and work pressures and these can be compounded by other road users. Fatigue may be one symptom of excessive work pressure.'

    It puts forward the suggestion that driver training could actually increase the risk of accidents, by making drivers over-confident of their abilities. 'There appears to be a certain amount of debate regarding the effectiveness of driver training on controlling ORR. One opinion is that driver skills training will not reduce risk because it is not a lack of skill which underpins accidents – instead, it is people's attitudes to driving which governs crash involvement. Increasing the skill level of drivers may only serve to make people over-confident regarding their ability and this may actually increase risk.

    'On the other hand, it has been reported that companies who adopt driver training programmes do experience a reduction in the number of accidents they have. However, there is generally a lack of hard evidence on the direct benefits of driver training.

    'It may be that companies which adopt training generally focus their safety culture towards road risk and the increased awareness brings a reduction in accidents, as opposed to the training itself.'

    Small firms suffering from general apathy

    DO large companies manage occupational road risk better than small firms? This is a key area of the report and a number of firms of varying sizes were looked at to see if being large meant better processes and management structures, and whether in small firms drivers were left to their own devices.

    Of the small companies, the report found 'there was a general lack of safety management applied to driving. This resulted in a lack of planning, rules/guidance, training and incident reporting/feedback.'

    It did note there were several instances of 'positive thinking and steps in the right direction', but there appeared to be a general apathy among small firms to get involved in the report: only 11% of those contacted were willing or able to take part. In the larger firms, pressure and fatigue was a common thread among drivers.

    The report found that 'pressure was more often than not related to tight schedules and, for some car drivers, meeting targets.

    'Feelings of tiredness are probably related to such pressure and would often lead to reduced awareness.'

    In conclusion, though, the authors found: 'In general, it does not follow that larger companies are significantly better at managing ORR. Although larger companies are stronger in many areas, they also share similar weaknesses with smaller companies in other areas.'

    These included a lack of clarity when reporting driver rules and a lack of driver training, although small firms 'invest relatively little in the safety of their drivers, apparently because they do not feel the need or because of financial constraints.'

    Other conclusions from the comparison of large companies with small companies were:

  • Favourable responses to the safety culture factor 'competence' exist irrespective of company size. This suggests people feel they have a good understanding of the risks associated with their job
  • Workmates' influence appears stronger in smaller companies, perhaps because employees have more chance to get to know one another
  • Large companies employ more driving safety initiatives than smaller companies
  • Pressure from schedules and tiredness affect drivers irrespective of company size
  • Drivers in smaller companies tend to exhibit more of an attitude that they know what they are doing and that there is little need for safety management procedures

    What fleet managers can do

    The report sets out the basics of managing occupational road risk, and although there is little that has not been said before, it serves as a useful base level from which to start.

    'At the heart of managing ORR there should be systems which ensure the implementation of a raft of practices which help to control the risk.'

    'A system of recruitment and selection should be in place to ensure that prospective drivers have suitable licences and driving experience, that they have any training which is required and that they are fit and healthy to undertake the job.'

    'Maintenance schedules should be developed which, among other issues, include regular spot checks and logs for defects as well as clear reporting and monitoring of actions.'

    'In terms of measures that are directly applicable to being on the road, drivers should be given a basic induction that takes them through the main hazards they are likely to encounter in their job, the rules they are expected to follow and violations they must avoid, and how they are expected to deal with other road users.'

    'This should apply to agency drivers as well as employees. Drivers should be particularly clear on the procedures which are to be followed in the event of an accident and how it should be reported.'

    'Managers should ensure that any information drivers need to assist them with safe driving is effectively communicated. Finally, training needs should be assessed and a suitable programme of training should be put in place that covers driving attitudes and behaviour as well as skill.'

    What happens next?

    The report recommends further investigation into the following areas:

  • An evaluation of the best way to measure organisational safety culture in the ORR context (eg whether or not a questionnaire approach is appropriate and, if so, how it should be designed, what it should contain and how it should be disseminated)
  • Further study of the work vehicle groups not covered in this project, eg maintenance van drivers, delivery drivers, bus and coach drivers and wider coverage of small haulage companies
  • An evaluation of driver safety training to gauge the relative merits of skill and attitude-based training and to measure training outcomes
  • An investigation into appropriate accident/near miss management systems tailored for on-road incidents. In particular, these should be designed to collect information on human contributions to work-related road accidents
  • Particular emphasis should also be placed on the feasibility of collecting reliable near-miss data and the efficacy of such data in terms of learning from road incidents and effecting improvement
  • There should be further investigation of what motivates companies towards developing management systems and culture, the way these inter-relate to address ORR and how to develop and disseminate key messages which come from this work

    Read more

    The report is available by logging on to www.dft.gov.uk

    What's your view? E-mail us at: fleetnews@emap.com

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