Many employers will agree with David Cameron, that a decade of Health and Safety rules and regulations intended to protect people, have in fact simply overwhelmed businesses with extra red tape. Whilst the Government have announced a review of the current rules, which we hope will bring an end to extreme examples of health and safety gone mad, such as the tragic case of the ten year old boy allowed to drown by community police officers who were not “trained” to go into the water or schools banning children from playing conkers in the school yard, employers will still need to understand and be aware of their legal responsibilities to take care of the health and safety of their staff.
One area which is often underestimated or overlooked by employers is ensuring the safety of staff on the road during the course of their employment. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also explicitly includes driving as an “at work” activity. This covers not only professional drivers and those in a company car, but will also catch the self employed, occasional as well as regular drivers and drivers that use their own vehicles.
With the government’s plans to raise the national speed limit on motorways from 70 to 80 mph, what must employers do to ensure that they are complying with their health and safety obligations?
Employers must first understand which driving journey will be caught within the ambit of the “at work” definition. Some of these include the not so obvious, such as;
- One-off journeys to client meetings, events, conferences etc.
- Casual deliveries or calls made on the way to the usual place of work
- Site visits that are not the employee’s usual place of work.
It is important for employers to provide their staff with effective written policies for the management of work-related road safety. A recent study by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) found that the main issues affecting workers driving during the course of their employment were;
- Time pressure
- In-vehicle distractions e.g. Mobile phones.
To help combat these, the TRL have suggested;
- Driver training
- Group discussions
- Rewards for accident free driving
- In-vehicle data recorders
Additionally, employers will have various administrative tasks to comply with to ensure that they are legally compliant including keeping up to date records which include driving licences. This in itself can present problems, such as manually tracking employee’s licences, updating those records and relying on employee honesty and disclosure in declaring any road traffic offences and convictions. Employers will of course have to ensure that this process complies with the Data Protection Act 1998. Disciplinary procedures and sanctions should incorporate breaches of any driving, company car or road related policies. For example, driving under the influence, or using a mobile phone whilst driving could be regarded as gross misconduct offences.
The implications for an employer that fails to have adequate procedures in place could result in a criminal prosecution for a failure to comply with Health and Safety legislation. In extreme cases, this could include a prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007. This Act came about following continuing concern about deaths and injuries at work, especially in the construction industry and those who drive during the course of their work and the lack of criminal responsibility of companies for negligence that causes the deaths of employees or others affected by a company’s operations. Companies prosecuted under this Act could face unlimited fines and with courts using the level of fine as a deterrent, in many cases this could even result in the collapse of the business. The recent case of Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd (Cotswold), which was found guilty of corporate manslaughter under the Act, is an example of the level of fine that a company could face, in this case £385,000. The successful prosecution of Cotswold demonstrates the importance for businesses to have a health and safety culture and to ensure that everyone takes responsibility for improving health and safety. Larger companies than Cotswold should also take notice of the level of the fine. At the time of the offence, Cotswold had only eight employees. It is likely that a larger organisation will face a much greater level of fine.