The burden of responsibility for safer at-work driving should be shared between employer and employee, rather than the one-sided view of the Department for Transport’s recent safety report.
That is the view of driver training specialist Peak Performance following the publication of the Safety Culture and Work-related Road Accidents report, which concluded that the company, not the driver, should bear the main responsibility for improving driving safety.
In the 133-page document, it is claimed that by improving their safety culture, companies can improve the safety attitudes of drivers. As a consequence, it also leans towards the view that employees have little accountability when it comes to at-work road safety and that their attitudes and actions are heavily influenced by the company for which they work.
According to Peak, it is company line managers who really hold the key to ensuring that the company’s safety policies covering at-work driving are clearly conveyed to employees and carried out effectively throughout the whole company.
But Peak Performance managing director James Sutherland believes this is only half the story. He said: ‘Yes, a company does have a duty-of-care to its employees in terms of at-work driving and that seems to have been increased by the latest thinking from the Health and Safety Executive in its report and recommendations on occupational driving: Driving at Work – Managing Work-Related Road Safety.
‘But it is the employee who drives for work who has the ultimate responsibility to drive safely and interpret the company’s safety policy out on the road.’
Not surprisingly, Peak believes training is the key to improving at-work road safety. Sutherland said: ‘It’s vital that drivers are trained to drive to the highest standards possible and their competency levels are improved. After all, it is drivers who are having the crashes, not the company.
‘Drivers must understand their responsibilities and receive the necessary training and guidance to help them carry out their driving tasks safely and to as high a standard as possible – regardless of the type of vehicle they drive.
‘For example, in recruiting a van driver, the company must satisfy itself that the driver has the competency levels required and, if not, provide appropriate training, which in the case of a van driver also includes issues such as loading and manual handling.’ But how does a company get its message across? All the policies and handbooks in the world are no good if the drivers are ignoring them.
The way to bridge this gap between company and employee, Peak believes, is with line managers to whom company drivers report, as they are in the best position to ensure the effective introduction of a company-wide safety culture that includes at-work driving.
Sutherland continued: ‘For larger fleets especially, the only effective way to achieve a safety culture that permeates throughout the company is to empower line managers and make them accountable at a local level.
‘Line managers are often the ones in the middle and charged by the company directors to implement a safety culture including appropriate training, often without incentives, support or the proper training themselves.
‘If line managers are to be tasked with implementing driving safety management systems, they need the proper tools for the job.
‘And a key way of doing that is to provide a workshop for line managers so they can be shown in practical terms what their responsibilities and duties of care to their staff are and what company policies are in place to cover at-work driving.’
These could include driving risk awareness workshops for drivers, practical behind the wheel training for those requiring it, internet-based risk assessment or e-learning methods – there should be no one-size-fits-all approach.
He added: ‘The report mentions that companies are not particularly good in this respect, but at Peak we are working with a number of companies who recognise that they need to get local managers involved in the process. The best example is probably BT, where up to 5,000 managers are being provided with workshops to set out the advice and guidance required.
‘These explain in detail the line managers’ duties of care and what action they should take to ensure their staff meet their own responsibilities. If more line managers were trained in this way, then it would go a long way to ensuring a safety culture permeates a whole company from directors right down to individual employees who drive for work,’ he said.
One of the problems in managing occupational road risk, highlighted in the DfT report, is that it cannot be accurately measured because the number of at-work driving accidents are not accurately recorded.
Peak believes that line managers could play a major role in helping address this deficiency by ensuring accurate accident records and post-accident interviews are carried out with company staff and it would also like to see companies introducing occupational driving as a standard part of the terms and conditions of the employment contract the employee signs when starting work.
Then, Sutherland said, if employees fail to abide by the conditions of employment with regard to safe driving, they can face sanctions under the company’s disciplinary code with appropriate action taken.