Driving is often the most dangerous activity that most of us do in the course of our working lives. It has been estimated that up to a third of the accidents that happen on Britain’s roads involve somebody who is at work at the time. This means that every week, around 200 road deaths and serious injuries involve someone driving, riding or otherwise using the road for work purposes.
Some of the pressures faced by “at-work” drivers are vastly different to those they experience when they are at the wheel in their own time. Perhaps they are required, like pharmaceutical reps or ambulance drivers, to drive thousands of business miles a year, often at peak times and in unfamiliar vehicles, to new locations, against deadlines, while under pressure to answer work-related phone calls, and while dividing their attention between the task of driving and reaching a meeting or an incident.
It appears that such pressures are impacting negatively on safety. For example, research has found that business drivers have collision rates which are 30-40 per cent higher than those of private drivers.
It is clear, therefore, that work-related road risk is both a major road safety and occupational safety issue affecting not only vocational drivers – people whose job is driving – but also the vast range of workers who cannot do their job without travelling on the road at some point. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has campaigned for more than a decade to ensure that employers and regulators address work-related road risk as a mainstream health and safety issue.
Since the inception of the managing occupational road risk (MORR) campaign in 1996, the safety charity has developed links with a wide range of businesses and organisations. In fact, there are now more than 100 organisations in the Occupational Road Safety Alliance (see www.orsa.org.uk). In Scotland, a website for the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance (www.scorsa.org.uk) was launched in September 2009.
Why manage road risk?
It is impossible to deny the ethical reasons for taking work-related road risk seriously. The potential for pain and suffering caused by at-work road accidents is substantial, with effects for the employee, his or her family and wider society. Changing the attitude and behaviour of road users is an important step towards reducing the number of accidents and this can be achieved through educational programmes such as refresher driver training.
There is tremendous potential for employers in the health sector to get involved in this. Due to so-called “time poverty” experienced by people outside of work, they are more likely to take part in safety programmes delivered within the workplace than those offered in the community. So, besides helping to reduce risks to employees while they are at work on the road, employers are also well placed to make a valuable input towards reducing the tragic toll on our roads through the attention they give to road safety.
There is also a growing focus on environmental concerns, and there are clear overlaps between driving technique, safety and fuel consumption. Indeed, some driver-training providers now offer “eco driving” courses, which explicitly highlight these overlaps. Using less fuel typically means spending less money, and herein lies a clue to the next key reason for taking work-related road risk seriously – the business case.
Research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into workplace accidents suggests that for every £1 recovered through insurance, between £8 and £36 may be lost through uninsured costs. Occupational road accidents are likely to cost firms in terms of lost business, administrative and legal fees and rising insurance premiums. Particularly when they involve liveried vehicles, they can also adversely affect corporate reputation and this, in turn, brings further financial implications.
Addressing road safety therefore makes good business sense. Indeed, the business case for preventing accidents is stronger during a recession. If sales or funding reduce, cutting the costs associated with easily-avoidable accidents becomes an increasingly crucial way to defend the bottom line.
In addition to the ethical and business cases, there are also significant legal prompts. Guidance issued by the HSE and Department for Transport (DfT) in Driving at Work: Managing Occupational Road Safety (INDG382, published in 2003), clearly states that health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities.
Employers must therefore manage risks on the road within the framework they should already have in place for dealing with other aspects of health and safety. The general duties laid out by the Health and Safety at Work Act mean they must assess the risks involved in the use of the road for work and put in place all “reasonably practicable” measures to manage those risks. There are no specific health and safety regulations covering this issue, but ignoring occupational road risk is not an option.
The police look at work-related factors when road crashes are investigated and action has been taken against employers. For example, we have previously seen company directors successfully prosecuted for manslaughter after crashes which could be linked back to working practices, including where drivers had spent excessively long hours at the wheel.
There are also specific regulations, such as drivers’ hours rules, plus general road traffic laws with which employers need to comply. An individual, for example, could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the use of a hand-held mobile phone while an employee is driving. There has also been a great deal of speculation about the potential use of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act in relation to work-related road deaths.
Work-related road injuries are currently not within the scope of RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations), although many organisations, including RoSPA, have called for them to be included as a way of confirming that road use should be managed in the same way as other occupational activities. But, as we have seen, even without this, there are many reasons why work-related road safety is something that cannot be ignored.
Acting on MORR
Essentially, employers must conduct suitable risk assessments and put in place all “reasonably practicable” measures to ensure that:
In controlling the risk of work-related road accidents, organisations can put in place a range of practical and cost-effective control measures such as: exploring safer alternatives to road travel, for example, taking the train or video-conferencing; specifying safest routes; insisting on compliance with speed limits; setting standards for safe schedules, journey times and distance limits; specifying the use of vehicles with additional safety features; ensuring safe maintenance; and, ensuring drivers are fit to do the task, which includes driver selection procedures, assessment, training and continual development.
But MORR is not about one-off, detached interventions. Instead, it is focused on developing a system (policies, people and procedures) to deliver sustainable and measurable benefits. It must be led from the top by senior managers and involve effective workforce participation and consultation with employee representatives. Line managers too have a key role to play in ensuring that staff are not put at risk and that they drive safely.
The good news is that plenty of help and information on developing such a system for the health sector is available from organisations such as RoSPA, ORSA, ScORSA, the HSE and the DfT. At first glance, managing occupational road risk might seem like a daunting task. But many organisations are successfully addressing the issue without it being over-burdensome, and service providers are generally happy to help meet the specific requirements of individual firms.
During its 93-year history, RoSPA has led the way in speaking out on road safety and in building an unrivalled reputation as an innovative provider of risk management and fleet safety solutions. Its extensive training portfolio, designed to suit organisations of all sizes and types, includes a Driver Theory Workshop, E-Learning package, Driver Development Course and Advanced Driver and Rider training. There are also many more specialist courses for drivers and fleet managers, including the Emergency Driving Course. Road accidents caused by vehicles being driven at high speed for emergency purposes has resulted in the introduction of Section 19 of the Road Safety Act 2006, stating that any driver using the speed limit exemption must undergo compulsory training.
RoSPA also offers risk assessment solutions, MORR consultancy and driver training awards.
For more information
Details of RoSPA’s Driver & Fleet Solutions can be found at www.rospa.com/driverandfleet
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0121 248 2233 (Birmingham) or 0131 449 9378 (Edinburgh) for more information.