Government figures may show an improvement in road casualty figures but there is no room for complacency among motor insurers or fleet managers, argue Roger Ball and Jon Dye

The latest statistics released by the Department for Transport (DfT) last month, on road casualties in 2006, appear to show that the government has all but met its 10-year targets set out in 2000.

Provisional estimates show that, just over halfway through the campaign, the number of people killed or seriously injured was 33% below the 1994-98 average (target is 40%) the number of children killed or seriously injured was 52% below the 1994-98 average (target is 50%) and provisional estimates show the slight casualty rate was 26% below the 1994-98 average (target is 10%).

While these figures are obviously encouraging, the DfT report also highlights that many accidents are not reported. In fact, it is estimated the actual number of serious injury casualties is nearly three times higher than those published in the DfT figures.

So, are the results indicative of outstanding performance in respect of road safety initiatives or unambitious target setting by government? Equally, do these results send out the right message to businesses and risk managers around the country? What are the incentives for them to improve and maintain good risk controls?

First, it should be recognised that existing health and safety legislation applies to ‘on the road’ work activities just as much as it does to the premises workplace.

Employers’ obligations

It is estimated by the government that up to a third of all road traffic accidents involve someone who is at work at the time. This may account for 20 fatalities and 250 serious injuries every week. The DfT and the Health & Safety Executive jointly issued a Driving at Work document in September 2003, clarifying the obligations of employers to manage the number of risks and incidents.

It states that employers should prevent driver sleepiness and mitigate the risk of drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Also employers should raise awareness of the risks and need for safe journey planning. Travel could be avoided altogether by using safer alternatives, such as phone, email or video conferencing.

The document also recommends reducing distances by setting maximum limits on daily driving distances, permitting overnight stays, and reviewing shift arrangements. The continual monitoring of risks is also essential.

The focus in the area of legal obligations has been heightened by the imminent introduction of the long awaited Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which has been the subject of debate for seven years. The main intention of this bill is to make it easier to prosecute organisations when their gross negligence leads to death.

It does not take a genius to establish that a road accident involving a company vehicle is rarely good news in financial terms and, more often than not, results in a loss.

Effective risk management of a fleet is imperative if fleet managers are to manage these costs, particularly as a growing number of fleet insurers and brokers are predicting an imminent rise in premiums following a deterioration in underwriting results.

Insurers have made advances in terms of risk management offerings and training, with some now providing dedicated risk management websites and access to specialist providers.

Brokers and companies are in a strong position to promote effective risk management. Aside from the not inconsiderable social consequences of serious road accidents, there is a financial link between the costs of losses and the premiums charged.

All of us in the industry have a responsibility to help share methods of risk control, and work to reduce the numbers of road accidents. This includes the analysis of existing data, and pinpointing where risk management measures can be most effectively targeted. By working with specialists in these areas we can help to minimise the disruption to business, whilst simultaneously encouraging organisations to meet regulatory requirements.

With the increased focus on corporate manslaughter, combined with a pressing need for insurers to stabilise and increase prices, now, more than ever before, is the time for organisations to manage their operations in an effective way.

All employers should be aware of these responsibilities, but those involved with employees who undertake long distance driving should take particular care to ensure that they comply with the required duty of care. For all companies with five or more employees, this must be clearly documented, and appropriate monitoring must be in place.

The aim of all fleet operators should be the creation of a culture of safety, in which drivers begin all tasks associated with driving their company vehicle from the basic proposition that it must be done as safely as possible – in other words, safety is the priority.

While it is not possible to completely eliminate risk from diving, the situation may be reached whereby all risks that can be eliminated have been, and where the remaining ones have been reduced as far as is possible. At this point it may be said that the risk associated with vehicle use within that fleet is being effectively managed.

Finally, until a company has assessed, understood and managed those risks identified, it is unlikely to be in a position to effectively evaluate the most appropriate level of insurance for the remaining exposures. IT

Assessing and managing fleet driving risks

Five key elements to managing risk are:

•? Setting and maintaining a risk management policy

•? Allocating responsibility within organisation

•? Ensuring organisation structure facilitates a culture to help manage risk

•? Establish systems to identify and manage risk

•? Monitor risk and performance

Four practical steps to help assess risk are:

•? Look for hazards

•? Identify who/what may be harmed/damaged

•? Evaluate the risks

•? Record the findings

All of the following pieces of legislation apply while employees are driving at work:

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Road Transport (working time) Regulations 2005