A recent discussion took with an organisation that had identified an employee who drives a company-owned vehicle on business who had a ‘colourful’ driving history, having been involved in 7 significant collisions in just under 2 years – a couple of those collisions having involved injuries to third parties. Fortunately for the employer concerned, they had been proactive in identifying the pattern of collisions and were just as active in taking a number of positive steps to counteract the problems that they had identified.
In some organisations there would be a good chance that such a pattern of collisions would eventually result in dismissal – however when the employee is a successful and valued member of staff, that may demand a different approach (although some might argue that an employee whose attitude to risk on the road might just be mirrored by a similar attitude to the workplace).
More importantly though, would your organisation have been able to identify such an ‘at-risk’ employee in the first place? Legislation requires us to ‘carry out suitable and sufficient assessments relating to risks’ with a view to identifying those higher risks so that we can put in place suitable steps to mitigate those risks in the first place – around ten times more deaths occur on UK roads than in the workplace, confirming that driving (and specifically driving on business) constitutes a relatively high-risk activity. We know from experience though, that the Pareto logic applies to driving – a relatively small group of drivers are involved in a large proportion of any company’s collisions, indicating that a significant factor is not the overall risk of driving on the road, but more specifically just how those ‘high-risk’ drivers deal with those activities on the road. As with any activity, the focus of Health & Safety at Work is intended to on prevention rather than cure – waiting for a tree-surgeon to fall out of a tree before putting him on training to stop that happening is not acceptable; with driving the aim should always be to seek to identify those drivers who are more likely to be involved in collisions, before they do so in order to facilitate preventative measures of some sort.
Following any serious collision involving someone who is driving on your business there is more and more likelihood that the ensuing investigations will look not just at the steps immediately leading up to the event, but at more and more of the background, the ‘story behind the story’. A classic example is the collision in Glasgow involving the refuse collection vehicle and why it went out of control. Logical questions for any investigating officers would revolve around a driver’s overall history, and those activities that the employer has taken to protect themselves and the public – or as legislation puts it, the steps that the employer has taken to ‘ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and well-being of employees and the public.’ After all, simply passing a driving test alone is not evidence of competence to drive, this is now an accepted principle as out lined in the HSE’s guidance on Managing Work-Related Road Safety in their booklet INDG382. Apart from ‘is this employee licensed to drive that vehicle’, a common question should relate to practical experience of driving the type of vehicle to be used on business since a typical basic simple driving test vehicle used for a driving test 20 years ago often bears no relationship to modern and sophisticated cars, vans and commercial vehicles, with any gaps in experience showing a need for ‘appropriate training to close the gaps. Similarly learning to drive abroad during military service may provide little practical experience for driving around a modern busy city – needing not only guidance and training, but systematic evidence of the steps taken.
And there lies the basic requirement of legislation – a systematic approach to dealing with risks on the road, just as with any other form of risk in any other environment. It may not need to be complicated, but a systematic method of identifying and controlling risks, matched by a systematic form of evidence of the actions taken, is needed for your protection.
A common question we get asked is ‘How will I know when I have done enough?’ to which a common response has to be either ‘When your actions have stopped any incidents or injuries from happening in the first place – or when an investigating officer who’s asking you the questions, is satisfied that you have enough documentary evidence that you have, so far as is reasonably practicable, done your best to stop the incidents happening.’ When you are asked for the details of actions around a particular driver, and you can immediately put your finger on the evidence of your actions each time a question is asked, there is a good feeling of relief – and to keep on producing evidence when asked for typically leads to a noticeable change in the demeanour of the investigating officer.
Whilst this may seem like a costly exercise especially if starting from a blank sheet, any employer who has had to go through the experience of a serious incident and ensuing investigations will tell you that the outcome is well worth the end result and that they wish that they had done so themselves – especially when hidden costs of collisions and reputational damage is concerned. Fortunately you are also able to call on the experience of Cardinus to help guide you through some of the practicalities – if you are thinking about that blank sheet you need to call Cardinus now. After all, next time you join a queue of traffic the cause of the congestion might just be one of your employees – we’re only a phone call away….but not whilst you are driving please!