As the government steps up its road safety initiatives insurers are requiring fleet and motor trade operators to manage their risks better. Roger Ball explains

At work road risk management has never received a greater focus since the patenting of the first motor car in 1879. It is currently estimated that as much as a third of all road traffic accidents relate to motorists travelling on business.

The government is firmly committed to reducing the numbers of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. Employers have legal, financial and moral obligations to manage this risk effectively.

Simply complying with road traffic law requirements, such as ensuring that company vehicles hold a valid MOT certificate and that drivers possess a valid licence, does not represent sufficient action to ensure the safety of employees and others while they are on the road. Existing health and safety law applies to both on road and off road work activities and requires risk to be effectively managed.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999, employers, regardless of their size, have a duty of care for the safety of employees at work.

If someone is driving on behalf of a business, they are as much at work as if they were in a factory or office.

In addition to companies' liabilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act, companies can also be held liable under traffic law. A company, or managers in that company, can be charged with 'aiding and abetting' a driver to commit an offence such as 'causing death by dangerous driving'. By putting in place effective management procedures to ensure vehicles are used appropriately, driven safely and are mechanically fit, the risk associated with vehicle use will be effectively minimised.

Guidelines issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in September 2003 in Driving at work - managing work related road safety have clarified the obligations relating to a number of issues which employers and fleet operators have to address.

These guidelines focus on three critical areas for attention - the vehicle, the driver and the journey.

Research has established that the total cost of an accident to an organisation is far more than the financial value of the insurance claim itself. Purely financial considerations take no account of the human costs of accidents on victims and their relatives. In addition, many financial costs incurred are uninsured.

By committing resources to the management of the fleet and reducing accidents, an organisation can achieve tangible business benefits which far outweigh the cost of the actions being undertaken.

A good road safety record can only be achieved by establishing a management system that can be integrated into the existing health and safety procedures within the business. The key areas of this system are:

Policy statement: a clear written statement should be issued and made visible to all employees, confirming the general objectives and safety requirements of the business. This should be endorsed and supported by senior management.

Organisation and responsibility: the business should support the policy statement, with clearly defined responsibilities across all divisions and individual staff members. Co-operation across the business should be encouraged, with effective communication allowing each division to support the next in achieving compliance.

Planning: performance standards should be set and the results of a risk assessment should be compared to these ideals. Any resulting actions for improvement should be prioritised and implemented in a structured and timely manner.

Monitoring and measuring: systems must be in place to ensure the safety policy remains effective and appropriate, as well as ensuring that compliance with performance standards is achieved.

Risk management for commercial motor is one of a number of courses held at the Allianz Cornhill Underwriting Academy. Training material provides employees with a broad understanding of commercial motor risk management for both motor fleet and motor trade together with an explanation of some of the methods commonly used.

Roger Ball is head of commercial motor and motor trade at Allianz Cornhill