Fleet News

Special feature: Stepping through the safety maze

Driving a van is a dangerous occupation. Looking at the following facts goes to prove it:
  • Every year 3,400 people die on UK roads and another 40,000 are seriously injured.
  • According to the Government-appointed 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 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?

    Your responsibility

    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 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 & Safety legislation’.

    The Government is especially concerned about the safety of people who drive as part of their work. In November 2001, the Government-appointed Work-related Road Safety Task Group recommended that existing Health & Safety (H&S) legislation be applied more rigorously to on-the-road work. As a result, Government, employers and safety enforcers alike gave the subject greater priority during 2002.

    The pressure intensified last year and, at the recommendation of the Task Group, new guidelines for employers about at-work road safety were published by the Health & Safety Executive. Called ‘Managing work-related road safety’, the HSE guide should form an essential starting point for any fleet safety policy and is highly recommended reading.
  • It is available free from the HSE by calling 01787 881165 or logging on to www.hse.gov.uk

    Mobile phones

    From December last year, it has been an offence to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. The new offence carries an automatic fine of £30, which can rise to £1,000 if the case goes to court. In addition, the Government plans to pass primary legislation so that the offence will also mean three points on the driver’s licence. Hands-free kits, in-car systems, CB radios and cab radios are not covered by the new offence. However, the Government says that drivers using these devices may still be prosecuted under the existing general road traffic offences of failing to have proper control of the vehicle, careless driving and reckless driving.

    Drivers’ safety tips

    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 are 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:

    Driving when tired

    To prevent driving when tired, you must:

  • 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 happen 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.

    The two-second rule

    It is important to keep a two-second gap between your vehicle 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.

    Load safety

    When a vehicle crashes into a wall at 25mph, an item of unsecured luggage weighing just 25kg will travel forward with a force equal to a baby elephant (three tonnes), so it makes sense to secure your load properly.

    It’s also a legal duty shared by both the driver and vehicle operator. The Road Traffic Act, 1991, states that ‘vehicle users’ are legally required to ensure that loads are secured safely on all journeys.

    In addition, the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 require that ‘all parts and accessories and the weight distribution, packing and adjustment of their loads shall be such that no danger is likely to be caused to any person in or on the vehicle or trailer on the road.’

    Routine checks should include:
  • Lashing equipment for signs of damage.
  • Nets, tarpaulins and sheets for signs of damage.
  • Anchorage points, headboards and bulkheads for signs of corrosion or cracks.

    In addition, you should ensure:
  • All load items are secured properly.
  • The weight and size of the load is within the limits of your vehicle, trailer and restraint devices.
  • The load weight is evenly distributed across the vehicle’s floor.
  • The centre of gravity of the load is as low as possible by placing heavier items at the bottom, lighter items at the top.
  • Wherever possible, the load is placed in contact with the headboard/bulkhead.
  • The doors are locked and the lock mechanisms are in good condition.

    The Department for Transport issues guidelines on load safety. Called ‘The Security of Loads on Vehicles code of practice’ it is available from The Stationery Office (T0870/600 5522) and can be downloaded from the DfT website wwww.dft.gov.uk


    More than 90% of reversing accidents happen off the road and the Health & Safety Executive estimates that nearly one-quarter of all deaths involving vehicles at work occur while the vehicle is reversing. The Fleet Safety Forum offers a self-audit on reversing safety for managers, developed by Dr Will Murray of the University of Huddersfield. The HSE also publishes ‘Reversing Vehicles: HSE good practice guide’, a free ten-page leaflet that suggests the following:

  • Remove the need for reversing wherever possible.
  • Exclude people from areas in which vehicles are permitted to reverse.
  • Minimise the distance vehicles have to reverse.
  • Make sure all staff are adequately trained.
  • Use a properly trained banksman or guide.
  • Decide how the driver is to make and keep contact with a banksman.
  • Make sure all visiting drivers are briefed.
  • Make sure all vehicle manoeuvres are properly supervised.
  • Use mirrors to increase the area the driver can see.
  • Fit a reversing alarm.

  • For a free copy of the Lex Rough Guide to Vans, call 08457 697381

    Top safety tips for van fleet operators

    The first step is to identify the risks. Three important areas covered by a risk assessment of a fleet and its drivers are:

  • The 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 drive 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 physically and mentally fit to drive – eyesight, for instance, and stress levels?
  • What is being done to ensure all vehicles – including privately owned vehicles used on company business – are properly maintained, roadworthy and properly insured?
  • How are accidents 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?
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