“Driving is the most dangerous work activity that most people do” according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Very few organisations operate without using vehicles and millions of us use the road for a living whether it’s driving a bus, coach, taxi, lorry, ambulance, post van or motorcycle, exposing both ourselves and other road users to an element of risk.
RoSPA estimate that around “150 people are killed or seriously injured every week in crashes involving someone who was driving, riding or otherwise using the road for work purposes,” while the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that “more than a quarter of all road traffic accidents may involve somebody who is driving as part of their work at the time.” The vast majority of these accidents are preventable.
The HSE state that like all work activities, health and safety law also applies to work-related road activities. Health and Safety law focuses almost exclusively on the responsibilities of employers to ensure they “take all reasonably practicable measures” to ensure they have the policies, people and systems in place to manage their occupational road risk.
Employers also have responsibilities under road traffic law. When investigating work-related fatal road accidents, the police will alert the HSE when they believe that management failures have played a “significant contributory factor” in the accident.
Employers can be charged with offences under both health and safety law and road traffic law. If an employee is killed while driving for work for example, and there is evidence that serious management failures resulted in a “gross breach of a relevant duty of care,” organisations can be prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Equally, drivers can be charged with a range of motoring offences that include causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving.
How Can Employers Manage the Risks?
Employers should ensure staff are made aware of the risks of falling asleep at the wheel, the need for safe journey planning and the need to ensure drivers get enough rest between shifts. All work-related driving activity should be risk-assessed, and health and safety policies produced covering factors such as driver training and competence, and vehicle servicing and maintenance.
The HSE advocate various safety criteria for people who drive for work. They include:
- drivers must know how to perform routine safety checks such as those on lights, tyres and wheel fixings;
- drivers must know how to correctly adjust safety equipment such as seat belts and head restraints and they must know how to properly use anti-lock braking systems (ABS);
- vehicles must, where appropriate, be fitted with tachographs, reversing alarms, proximity sensors, and side bars and cameras;
- drivers must know how to ensure their safety in the event that their vehicle breaks down;
- drivers must avoid using drink, drugs or medication that may impair their judgement;
- drivers must avoid using their mobile phone behind the wheel;
- drivers must be aware of the height of their vehicle, both empty and fully loaded to avoid accidents such as bridge strikes;
- vehicles must not exceed their maximum load weight and any goods or equipment they are carrying must be properly secured;
- drivers must report health concerns, ensure their work schedules are realistic, and satisfy eyesight and other health requirements of the Highway Code and DVLA;
- HGV drivers must have the appropriate medical certificates;
Unfortunately there will always be an element of risk involved with driving. Although the dangers can never be completely controlled, it is paramount that employers take all reasonable steps to manage the risks of work-related driving. They must do everything reasonably practicable to protect staff from harm on the road in the same way as they are required by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to protect employees in the workplace.
Matthew Tomlinson is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon in Sheffield.
If you have suffered an injury while at work, call our No Win No Fee Personal Injury Lawyers 24 hours 7 days a week on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.
You can claim compensation for a work accident injury whether you were working as a full time or part time employee, a temporary worker, a self-employed contractor or if you were just visiting a business at the time of the accident.