Roger Ball highlights the importance of road risk management and outlines some of the key legal obligations that fleet operators face

There has never been a greater focus on "at work" road risk management 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, and employers have legal, financial and moral obligations to manage this risk effectively.

Here we look at some of the key aspects requiring the attention of fleet and motor trade operators.

Legal obligations
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 that employers and fleet operators have to address.

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

Financial and moral obligations
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 that 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 outlined below.

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.

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.

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

Testing times
Test yourself on commercial motor risk management:

1. Provide some examples of the hidden costs involved with accidents.

2. Outline the main legislative requirements that are relevant to health and safety in respect of the use of motor vehicles.

3. Outline two examples of a) preventative and b) post-loss measures to reduce commercial motor risk.

4. What do the initials VSIB stand for and what is the role of this organisation?

5. Explain why the proper use of head restraints is important to reducing the severity of accident injuries.

6. What is the name of the independent body financed by the British insurance industry to undertake accident repair research? Name three other key functions that are carried out by this organisation?

7. Why is it considered inappropriate for mobile telephones to be used while driving? Give details of the relevant UK legislation.

1. Additional hidden costs which have a negative impact include the following:

  • administrative costs involving investigation and paperwork
  • staff and vehicle downtime (and hire costs)
  • adverse effects of staff morale, with reduced productivity
  • damage to the organisation's reputation
  • work rescheduling and the risk of lost orders
  • increased insurance premiums
  • higher vehicle running costs if poor driving standards are operative
  • temporary or permanent replacement of employee(s)
  • 2. Employers have a 'duty of care' under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, this extends to include the safety of journeys driven on behalf of their business. Employers must:

  • have comprehensive road safety policies (in writing if there are five or more employees) that are supported by top management
  • put road safety procedures in place, including assessments of risk, and implement safe practices that eradicate or minimise all identified risks as far as possible
  • ensure that staff are given information, training and supervision to be safe on the road
  • regularly audit the safety of journeys and amend policies and procedures accordingly if new risks are identified
  • 3. a)

  • Restricting young or inexperienced drivers to lower-powered vehicles
  • Careful driver selection
  • 3. b)

  • Removal of a vehicle to mechanics without undue delay
  • Prompt accident reporting and interviewing of witnesses
  • Post accident counselling for employees
  • 4. The Vehicle System Installation Board (VSIB) is an independent body set up to administer a code of practice to ensure and maintain standards relating to the installation of vehicle security. The code applies to all types of vehicles - light commercial vehicles, large goods vehicles and motorcycles.

    5. Many drivers forget to adjust their head restraint or do not know the position it should be in. Badly adjusted head restraints cause thousands of cases of whiplash every year and can result in a fatal broken neck.

    The top of a head restraint should be no lower than the top of the driver or passenger's head. This should be checked every time the vehicle is used. The head restraint should be just behind the head. Therefore it is important that the seat is straight.

    6. The Thatcham Motor Insurance Repair and Research Centre. Aside from crash testing and accident repair research, its main functions also include whiplash research, vehicle security, group rating and industry training and development.

    7. The Highway Code states that drivers should not use a hand-held mobile phone or microphone when driving and while the use of a hands-free kit is a major improvement, it is also likely to distract attention from the road. This is based on the logic that it is not holding the phone that is the main danger but the distraction of having a conversation.

    December 2003 saw the introduction of a specific motoring offence to use a hand-held phone or similar device when driving.

    This applies under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 2003.