Driving at Work: Improving Staff Safety

Posted: 28 Oct, 2023.

As an employer or business owner, your legal duty to ensure the safety of your employees extends beyond the workplace into work-related journeys. Whether employees drive occasionally or as a primary part of their job, and regardless if they use personal vehicles or company cars, it is crucial to recognise the shared responsibility for their safety while driving.

Although often overlooked by employers, the HSE states that “driving for work is one of the most dangerous things workers will do”. In fact, research shows that around one third of all road fatalities, and one fifth of all road casualties, involve someone who is driving for work or commuting. This may account for over 20 fatalities and 250 serious injuries every week. Compared to all other work activities, it contributes to far more work-related accidental deaths and serious injuries.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) adds that people who drive for work ‘crash more often, even after their higher mileages are taken into account’, and are more likely to ‘take risks and to be at fault when they crash.’

This may be because those who drive for work are increasingly likely to be exposed to more unavoidable risks than the average driver. For example, they may be required to drive during extreme weather conditions, for extended periods of time, under strict time limits, or be expected to multi-task. But no matter the cause, it’s crucial that employers and employees work together to reduce the risks involved and ensure employee safety behind the wheel.

Here are some steps employers can take to protect those driving for work:

1. Maintain Company Vehicles

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), employers have a responsibility to ensure that all vehicles (regardless of whether they’re owned by the company or the individual) used for work:

  • conform to road traffic law
  • are safe and properly maintained
  • are fit for purpose
  • do not put the driver’s health and safety at risk

Servicing company vehicles on time, updating maintenance records and frequently assessing the health of your vehicles will reduce the likelihood of accidents and unexpected breakdowns that could compromise both employee safety and operational efficiency.

All drivers should know how to complete a vehicle safety check and who to report any faults to. A routine safety check includes lights, tyres and wheel fixings being examined to ensure the vehicle’s basic functions are in good working order. Every vehicle needs to be properly taxed, have a valid MOT (if over three years old) and be serviced regularly.

When staff use their own vehicle for work, organisations still have the same duty to ensure the vehicle is safe and legal. In addition, they must also check the employee’s motor insurance includes business use cover.

2. Reduce Distractions

Distractions are a major cause of vehicle accidents, with 19% of people admitting that being distracted and not paying attention was the cause of their most recent car accident or incident. One major cause of distraction is mobile phones. Answering calls, texting, and scrolling through social media are habits that can lead to serious incidents, even in seemingly harmless moments, like waiting at traffic lights.

Research by IAM RoadSmart highlighted shocking statistics, such as that 49% of businesses expect employees to answer phones at any time, including while driving for work and 17% of employees admit being involved in an incident when driving for work due to taking a work call.

This highlights a critical need for organisations and employees to change their attitudes towards calls and other distractions while driving for work. Encourage employees to not answer calls, emails or texts while driving, emphasising that no work-related task is worth compromising their safety or the safety of others on the road.

Implementing a zero-tolerance policy for phone use while driving, coupled with comprehensive training on the dangers of distractions, is essential to road safety. To encourage drivers to stay focused on the road, consider installing built-in media players and hands-free equipment in your vehicles. You could also implement sensors which actively monitor distractions and remind drivers to maintain their attention on the road.

3. Hire Drivers with Good Records

Hiring drivers with a proven track record is a crucial step in creating a safe workplace culture around driving. A candidate’s past performance on the road is a reliable indicator of their commitment to safe driving practices.

When evaluating potential hires, examine their driving history, considering factors such as accident records, traffic violations, and adherence to road regulations. Look for candidates with a clean and consistent track record, as this not only reflects their ability to navigate the road responsibly but also demonstrates their commitment to the safety of themselves and others.

During the employee onboarding process, ensure they have a good understanding of the job requirements and once in the role, check annually whether they need a licence renewal or refresher course. It’s also important to check that drivers are sufficiently healthy to drive safely without putting themselves and other road users at risk.

4. Conduct Health Checks

The Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) sets minimum medical standards (e.g. being able to read a number plate from 20 metres) and rules for drivers, including health conditions that must be reported to the DVLA. The government also has useful information on the health conditions that drivers and motorcyclists may need to report to the DVLA.

Drivers of large vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, minibuses and buses have extra medical rules that they need to follow. Every new driver must undergo a HGV medical exam with accompanying paperwork (D4) that is submitted to the DVLA by the physician who performs the examination.

The HGV medical includes an interview with any registered doctor in the UK to discuss medical history and any medical conditions that may interfere with safe driving. There will also be a physical examination to check vital signs, vision, etc.

You should encourage drivers to report any health concerns. They should also be aware of the side effects of any medication they’re taking that might impair their judgement.

5. Offer Comprehensive Driver Training

Ensuring the safety of those driving for work begins with equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary for responsible and secure driving. You might feel that additional driving training might not be necessary if employees are just driving to and from meetings. However, you might consider providing general induction training to set expectations, including:

  • Not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Not using a hand-held mobile phone while driving
  • Always wearing a seatbelt

Offering driver training is a proactive measure that not only enhances the competence of your team but also contributes to reducing the risks associated with work-related driving.

If staff are going to be driving large vehicles, such as heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) or lorries, drivers need to be aware of the vehicle’s dimensions, especially height. This is something that could be included in a training session before they’re allowed behind the wheel. Tailored programs could also be offered to teach specific skills, such as defensive driving techniques, hazard recognition, and response strategies for diverse conditions.

It’s important than any skills-based training is accompanied by awareness-raising education that addresses the main risks drivers face and pose to others. These sessions should stress the importance of prioritising safety.

6. Develop a Rest Schedule

Establishing a well-structured rest schedule for your drivers is essential for ensuring their physical and mental wellbeing on the road. Fatigue can impair driver judgment and increase the fatality rate of road incidents, with between 10% and 20% of all road crashes being fatigue-related. Similarly, about 4 in 10 tiredness-related crashes involve someone driving for work. It’s possible for drivers who are tired to experience a similar level of impairment as someone at or beyond the legal limit for alcohol.

To ensure staff safety, employers should create a schedule that prioritises adequate breaks and rest intervals, aligning with legal requirements and safety standards. For example, the Highway Code recommends that drivers and riders should take a 15-minute break every two hours. Consider factors such as driving hours, overnight stays, and the nature of the routes. Bearing in mind that long-distance drivers and shift workers are particularly high risk for fatigue.

Additionally, drivers need to be educated on the importance of taking regular breaks from behind the wheel, and of responding immediately to signs of fatigue by pulling over when it’s safe to do so.

7. Route planning

Driving routes are perhaps one of the hardest factors to control, particularly if the destinations and overall journeys are irregular. However, there are some measures you can put in place to keep employees on the safest routes.

Where possible, routes should be planned to avoid town centres, residential areas, schools and anywhere else that is densely populated. When drivers do need to go through towns, villages and cities, they should be instructed to take extra care when manoeuvring or turning. Ideally, journeys should largely be completed on motorways and other major roads which present a lower crash risk.

If your company uses larger vehicles, it’s imperative that the driver is aware of the height of the vehicle. The route should avoid overhead restrictions; nonetheless, mistakes can be made, so it will be the driver’s responsibility to know the vehicle’s height limitations. According to data from Network Rail, there are more than 2,000 bridge strikes every year in Britain.

8. Route schedule

Driving can be a highly pressurised job, especially if there’s a tight schedule to stick to. Often, the schedule is disrupted through no fault of the driver as a result of congestion, road works or a road traffic incident.

It’s important to allow drivers enough time to get between appointments or deliveries without taking unnecessary risks. For example, exceeding speed limits to meet agreed arrival times. Schedules must also ensure drivers get adequate rest time as outlined above.

Similarly, the schedule should take into account the time of day the journey is taking place. Peak traffic times will inevitably increase journey times, whereas sleep-related incidents are most likely to happen between 2 am – 6 am and between 2 pm – 4 pm.

9. Create a Safe Driving Policy

Setting clear and comprehensive safety guidelines is a crucial step in ensuring employee safety. These guidelines outline the expectations and protocols that contribute to a secure work-related driving environment and should be issued to all employees who drive for work and then stored in an easily accessible location.

Your guidelines should outline how often to take breaks, the need to monitor traffic and weather conditions, and reinforce the importance of adhering to road traffic laws. If your drivers operate in extreme conditions, such as cold climates, you should also provide details on ensuring tyres are properly inflated and have sufficient tread, how to drive safely in these conditions and any extra equipment employees should carry with them in case of an incident. For those working alone while driving, you should consider including them in your organisation’s lone worker policy.

Violations of the safe driving policy should be recorded as this will help to identify trends and repeat offenders. Recorded violations serve as a foundation for implementing corrective actions, whether this be additional training or disciplinary in severe cases. Corrective actions not only address individual instances of non-compliance but contribute to the organisation’s overall driving safety culture.

10. Implement an Incentive Scheme

Improve the performance and morale of your drivers by rewarding those who display safe driving habits. This will help to promote good driving behaviour and keep safety at the front of your worker’s minds, creating a positive safety culture. Desirable incentives will motivate employees to adhere to company standards, helping to reduce driving-related incidents across your organisation.

You could reward positive driver behaviour based on speeding, braking and mobile phone use, which can be measured and analysed through the use of telematics. Additionally, you could reward drivers using performance metrics such as accident-free periods. Before implementing an incentive programme, speak to your employees to understand what type of reward drivers value to ensure the incentives appeal to them.

11. Consider Ergonomics

For employees who are constantly behind the wheel, their vehicle is their office, so you need to provide the same levels of comfort to them as someone sitting at a desk.

Before buying or leasing vehicles, there are certain ergonomic considerations, such as driving position and how accessible the controls are. Where possible, it could be a good idea to get input directly from the drivers.

In terms of education, you can provide drivers with guidance on good posture and how to set their seat correctly to prevent musculoskeletal problems.

12. Monitor Driver Wellbeing

Stress and anxiety impact drivers’ perception and decision making, for example by increasing aggression and lowering concentration. Similarly, work-related stress can compromise their ability to make sound decisions while driving, escalating the potential for accidents.

Providing training for drivers to recognise and regulate their emotions is an effective strategy to mitigate road rage and enhance overall driving safety. Additionally, technology can be used to check in with drivers during their workday, providing real-time insights into their wellbeing and emotional state. Fostering a transparent work culture will help you identify colleagues who need greater emotional support.

13. Invest in Technology

Investing in advanced technologies such as Peoplesafe and SureCam provides comprehensive safety measures for drivers. This integrated solution provides 24/7 access to a state-of-the-art Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), which acts as a lifeline for drivers in distress. When an SOS alarm is raised via the Peoplesafe Pro App, it begins recording audio, while the SureCam dashcam captures video footage of vehicles and incidents in real-time.

This is fed directly to the Peoplesafe ARC, where in an emergency, ARC controllers can contact the emergency services, bypassing 999 for the fastest response possible. This immediate and responsive support system ensures that help is just a click away, offering reassurance to drivers navigating potentially challenging situations on the road.

This solution takes driver safety to the next level by integrating GPS tracking with audio and video evidence capture. The real-time GPS tracking feature provides organisations with valuable insights for incident response, while in the event of an incident or dispute, the recordings offer objective and irrefutable evidence, aiding in the resolution of disputes, and insurance claims.

UK Driving Laws for Work

While there are no health and safety regulations that focus specifically on driving for work in the UK, employers have common law duties of care, as well as statutory duties to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of employees.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a general obligation on employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, including those engaged in work-related driving. This includes assessing anything on the road that may foreseeably harm staff while they are working and taking reasonably practicable steps to protect them.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 specifically requires employers to conduct risk assessments, including hazards related to work-related driving. For employees who drive as part of their job, this includes assessing the vehicle, the nature of the journeys, and the working conditions.

Additionally, the Road Traffic Act 1988 sets out specific legal obligations for employers regarding the use of vehicles on the road. Employers must ensure that vehicles are roadworthy and properly maintained, and they are responsible for the actions of their employees while driving for work. This includes taking steps to prevent employees from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Furthermore, the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 can apply if a fatality occurs as a result of a gross breach of duty of care by an organisation, such as failure to adequately maintain a vehicle leading to a fatality.

For employees driving for work, road traffic law applies, and the person driving is likely to be the principal duty holder. This means that the driver must adhere to all relevant traffic regulations, speed limits, and road signage.

Where a workplace incident occurs as the result of a breach of health and safety regulations, employers can face criminal proceedings and be fined up to £10 million by the HSE. With conviction rates as high as 93%, employers should do all they can to comply with legislation and protect their staff.

How Much Could You Save on HSE Fines?

Drivers’ Hours Rules

As an employer, it’s also your responsibility to monitor your mobile workers’ – including drivers – working time and ensure they don’t go over the limit.

There are three set of rules that could apply to any work-related journey:

The GB domestic drivers’ hours rules apply to most passenger-carrying vehicles and goods vehicles that do not have to follow the EU rules.

Goods vehicles

When driving a goods vehicle with a maximum permitted gross weight of 3.5 tonnes or less, you must not drive for more than 10 hours in a day. You must also record your hours on a weekly record sheet or on a tachograph.

Passenger-carrying vehicles

When driving a passenger-carrying vehicle, you must not drive for more than 10 hours in any working day. Similarly, you must not work more than 16 hours between the times of starting and finishing work.

After five and half hours of driving, you must take a break of at least 30 minutes for rest and refreshment. Or, within any period of eight and a half hours, you must take at least 45 minutes in breaks. In addition, you must have a break of at least 30 minutes at the end of this period (unless it’s the end of the working day).

You must take a rest of 10 hours before the first duty and immediately after the last duty in a working week. Moreover, you must take a rest of at least 10 hours between two working days – this can be reduced to eight and a half hours up to three times a week.

Finally, every two weeks you must take at least one period of 24 hours completely off duty.

Exemptions to the GB domestic rules

The GB Domestic rules don’t apply if you:

  • drive for less than four hours in a day
  • drive off-road or on private roads during duty time
  • drive a vehicle used by the armed forces, police or fire brigade
  • are dealing with an emergency e.g., major disruption to public services or danger to life

EU driving rules

EU rules apply if the maximum permissible weight of your vehicle or vehicle combination is more than 3.5 tonnes and you’re driving in the EU, a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland. There are some vehicles that are exempt from EU rules when driven in the UK.

The main EU rules on driving hours are that you must not drive more than:

  • 9 hours in a day – this can be extended to 10 hours twice a week
  • 56 hours in a week
  • 90 hours in any two consecutive weeks

In terms of breaks, you must take:

  • a break or breaks totalling at least 45 minutes after no more than 4 and a half hours of driving
  • at least 11 hours rest every day – this can be reduced to 9 hours rest three times a week between any two weekly rest periods
  • an unbroken rest period of 45 hours every week – this can be reduced to 24 hours every other week
  • your weekly rest after six consecutive 24 hour periods of working, starting from the end of the last weekly rest period taken

Managing Staff Driving Their Own Cars for Work

Employer’s responsibilities to carry out a risk assessment and implement safety measures extends beyond company vehicles, also applying to those employees who drive their own cars for work, often known as ‘grey fleet’. However, this does not apply to people commuting, unless they are travelling to or from somewhere that is not their usual place of work.

For example, while employers typically bear no responsibility for the safety of staff during their daily commute, if employees are required to travel to multiple offices or locations as part of their job responsibilities, this is considered a work activity. In these cases, employers have a legal duty of care towards employees and may also find themselves held ‘vicariously liable’ for the actions of their employees.

This means that employers are responsible for ensuring that employees’ own vehicles, driven for work related purposes, are in safe condition, properly maintained and are fit for purpose. They also have a responsibility to ensure the driver has a valid license and insurance.

Risk Assessment For Driving

A risk assessment for any work-related driving activity should follow the same principles as for any other work activity. The risk assessment should identify the hazards, decide who might be harmed and how and evaluate the risks.

Example Risk Assessment For Driving At Work Activities

Once you’ve completed your risk assessment, you need to record any significant findings and regularly review the document to ensure the risks faced by drivers in your organisation are suitably controlled.

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