Fleet News

Opinion: Steve May, Jelf Group

According to James Langley, fleet management specialist and deputy chairman of the Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM), there’s a lot of hype and scare-mongering going on around Duty of Care in advance of the Corporate Manslaughter Act, some parts of which come into force in April.

He believes that if a company is already running its fleet cost-effectively and with due regard to the occurrences that are likely to be encountered, it is more than likely to have protected itself from any exposure from this new piece of legislation.

The act itself does not place any additional duty of care on employers.

The significance of the new legislation is that for the first time, an organisation can be held responsible for the offence of Corporate Manslaughter if it can be proved that the way in which its activities were managed caused the death, constituting a gross breach of the organisation’s relevant duty of care to the deceased.

The 1974 Health and Safety Act already places duty of care responsibilities on the employer for the health and safety of employees at work.

Under this act, the employer must take reasonable care to protect employees from risk of injury, disease or death while at work.

It is important to remember that a company vehicle is considered to be an extension of the workplace.

It is the employer’s responsibility to keep up to date with road safety legislation and ensure that company drivers comply.

Regulations cover the construction and use of vehicles, carrying dangerous goods by road and special health and safety considerations. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced an excellent guide to managing work-related road safety which covers legal responsibilities, understanding the processes and controlling risk issues.

Driving at Work can be downloaded free at: 
www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf

The heightened awareness surrounding the legislation does, however, provide an excellent opportunity for fleet managers and those with responsibility for company vehicles or drivers to carry out an audit of their current policy and procedures.

There are three main areas you should consider: the driver, the vehicle and the journey.

Make sure that any reviews and actions are fully documented in order to be able to demonstrate that Health and Safety responsibilities have been taken seriously.

Record maintenance and servicing details and keep details of driver training programmes.

Drivers

Driver churn is high in many van fleets.

It is tempting to rush out and replace the driver as quickly as possible, but there should be no shortcuts in your driver selection procedure.

Part of minimising the risk is choosing recruits who are more likely to be responsible, safe drivers.

It’s not just in situations of high staff turnover where there is a risk in driver competence, and many businesses which start to check driver licences may have a few unpleasant surprises.

Once drivers are in, spot-check their driving licences at least once a year.

Regular checks to ensure that all of your drivers are driving legally are critical and it’s important to consider how you will react to, for example, the driver who manages to acquire six penalty points since his licence was last checked.

Having this information allows you to take appropriate decisions and take any necessary action, for example, driver training.

Make sure all drivers receive proper induction on the company vehicle policy and procedures.

If this is not done and an employee is injured or killed at the wheel, a lack of induction is a clear breach of duty of care obligations.

A robust company vehicle policy should have clear rules on reporting of accidents, which are clearly communicated to all drivers, irrespective of who owns the vehicle they are driving.

Vehicles

Perhaps the most important aspect in this section of the audit is to check that vehicles have the correct specification for the job that you are asking the company vehicle driver to carry out.

Vehicles must be fitted with any equipment necessary – for example lifting equipment for heavy loads – and drivers must receive full training on how to operate special equipment appropriately and safely.

The company must ensure that all vehicles are properly maintained and inspected regularly. It may be worth outsourcing this task if you do not have a dedicated vehicle maintenance team.

Drivers should be encouraged to perform their own routine safety checks of tyres, oil and screen-wash in between scheduled inspections.

It is important that compliance is managed as, if an accident occurs as a result of any of these elements, irrespective of any employee contractual obligations, the company is still ultimately responsible for the overall safety of the vehicle.

Journeys

Effective planning of work schedules is crucial to health and safety.

Pushing drivers to cram more deliveries into their day causes fatigue and encourages speeding – two of the main contributory factors to accidents.

Build in allowances for breaks into schedules. While legislation to control van driver hours is not as focused as that for trucks, vans are just as tiring to drive.

If a company vehicle is being driven in a fuel-efficient way it is also being driven more safely. Consider providing driver training to encourage safer, fuel-efficient driving and installing telematic equipment to vehicles to help understand driver behaviour and monitor fuel consumption.

To sum up, duty of care issues can be confidently addressed through a robust fleet management policy that is continually reviewed and refined, in a corporate environment where departments sharing responsibility for different aspects of fleet management, communicate regularly and effectively with each other.

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