This could range from something as straightforward as a minor whiplash injury through to a major traumatic incident and a lengthy stay in hospital.
In many situations, knowing who to turn to for advice for an injured employee is difficult. Even in quite straightforward cases, simple injuries can turn into long absences which can be difficult for the van driver and their employer.
Sometimes recovery can be hampered by the trauma of the accident and the social circumstances of the injured driver. And while the NHS can do a lot, its main raison d’etre is to put people back together again and not address the subtle and underlying factors which may prevent a person returning to work.
However fleet managers may now have an unlikely ally in their efforts to help injured drivers and ensure they can soon get back behind the wheel.
Insurance companies have been undergoing a seachange in their attitudes towards injured claimants and are increasingly using the services of specialist rehabilitation providers to work with claimants and ensure the claims process is as efficient as possible.
This is because research is finding that rehabilitation companies can reduce compensation claims by shortening the claims process. This is achieved through rehabilitation companies assigning dedicated case managers to the injured person.
The case manager aims to obtain the best medical help and therapy available for their clients, introducing psychological counselling if necessary. They will also organise vocational rehabilitation if the person cannot return to their original job.
Dr Edmund Bonikowski, a consultant in rehabilitation medicine and CEO of Kynixa, a specialist rehabilitation company, said: ‘Until recently, rehabilitation had not really been on the radar of insurance companies.
‘However there is now a gradual change which means rehabilitation is rising higher up the agenda. The key is understanding the underlying problems that can take root following an accident. Early intervention can reduce recovery time and the overall costs to both employee and employer.’
A snapshot of the UK fleet sector would reveal gross inconsistencies as to how van drivers may be treated if they were to be involved in an accident. Very few companies have a formal policy on what to do for a driver whose needs are more complex and who would clearly benefit from rehabilitation treatment.
Bonikowski said: ‘While companies have had to tighten up their health and safety policies and, in some instances, will offer occupational health services to an injured driver, by and large there is no continuity of policy which would accommodate some form of rehabilitation.
‘The interface between occupational health and rehabilitation services is non-existent. Yet with the right rehabilitation, drivers can get back to work quicker – or find other means of employment.’
Bonikowski believes fleet managers can play their part in ensuring drivers are aware of their rights and get the very best possible support after an accident. Legislation is on their side. Since April 2005, consideration of rehabilitation is now a requirement under the Civil Procedure Rules.
The driver, their solicitor and insurance company must consider as early as possible whether the driver has reasonable needs that could be met by rehabilitation treatment.
Bonikowski said: ‘It is not just because of legislation that insurance companies are now more amenable to rehabilitation services. A strong evidence base is beginning to gather which shows it is economically beneficial.’
Depending on the extent of the injury, there is a range of solutions which can be offered to the van driver.
Kynixa offers a telephone service which may be suitable for drivers who have sustained whiplash injuries and would benefit from a course of physiotherapy through to programmes for drivers who have suffered catastrophic injuries and need a comprehensive rehabilitation service.
The company works with existing NHS treatment teams wherever possible and supplements this with expertise from the private sector – if it is in the best interests of the driver.
‘Ultimately, rehabilitation is a ‘best practice’ issue for companies,’ says Bonikowski. ‘If a company driver is injured, the employer and insurance company have a responsibility to help them get their life back together and provide the best standards of care.
‘The best way of doing this is through an integrated clinical and vocational rehabilitation programme which co-ordinates treatment and recovery with a return to work.
‘Drivers can feel very vulnerable after an accident, irrespective of how traumatic it has been. To receive help from an experienced rehabilitation provider can bring benefits which will impact on their future career. In many ways, it is more important than any level of compensation they might receive.’
Dr Ed Bonikowski