Many companies are compliant with work-related road safety legislation, but those same employers fail to effectively manage vehicles, drivers and journeys on a day-to-day basis thus risking potential criminal prosecutions and/or civil actions in the event of a crash.
That was the message from health and safety lawyer Michael Appleby, of London-based law firm Fisher Scoggins Waters, to fleet decision-makers at the inaugural meeting of Fleet Service Great Britain’s Achieve Driver Management User Group (pictured).
Achieve is the company’s umbrella brand with a range of components – Achieve Driver Management, Achieve Crash Management, Achieve Maintenance Management, Achieve Fleet Manager, Achieve Management Services, as well as Achieve Fleet Service Partnership.
Fleet decision-makers are able to ‘pick ‘n’ mix the tools in the Achieve box to provide their businesses with a single silo of live and dynamic online data to further improve vehicle, driver and journey management.
The Driver Management User Group is focused on providing support advice and mentoring on all aspects of managing drivers, vehicles and journeys, by sharing knowledge and best practice to influence behind-the-wheel behaviour and performance thus ensuring a safe working environment. Furthermore, fleet decision-makers in the User Group will provide input into the future development of new Achieve Driver Management features.
Mr Appleby, highlighted that many organisations went through the compliance ‘tick box procedure’ of, for example, checking the validity of employees’ driving licences and perhaps encouraging defect checks to be undertaken, but failed to translate the information gathered into practical management.
“There is a correlation between ‘bent metal’ crashes and proper management,” he said, with data collected via the Achieve Driver Management programme able to provide fleet decision-makers with detailed insight into the driving performance and behaviour of individual employees so remedial action can be taken. “Companies may have really good health and safety management across their core business, but when it comes to vehicles and drivers it can be much weaker.
“Too many companies view road risk as managing compliance and not managing the risk itself. Employers should have the basic elements of managing safety in place, but frequently there is very little actual day-to-day management. When ‘things go wrong’ businesses could be massively exposed because they do not have the answers to questions posed by investigators.”
Business journey crashes – either in a company-provided vehicle or an employee’s own vehicle – could be investigated by the police or Health and Safety Executive while coroners, in the event of a fatality, may also be influential.
Mr Appleby highlighted how coroners now had a statutory duty to consider writing a Prevention of Future Deaths Report to any organisation or person where they believed action should be taken to prevent future deaths.
“Coroners have a wide discretion as to the scope of an inquest. I can foresee the situation where there is a fatality in a work-related road crash and a coroner wants to enquire how a business is managing its vehicles and how data is being used to manage the fleet and drivers,” he said.
Mr Appleby also warned that employers could find themselves “caught up” in a work-related road safety investigation as a consequence of an associated incident.
He explained: “Investigators will want to know how a business manages safety and may find weaknesses in respect of managing vehicles, drivers and journeys that were a contributory factor to any incident. When I interview company directors and other employees the speed at which requested documents are produced is a good indication as to how well safety is managed in the business.”
Highlighting that “a well-managed company manages safety well”, Mr Appleby told the User Group that while both criminal prosecution and/or civil action could result from a work-related car or commercial vehicle crash, the rise of social media meant the “court of public opinion” was also becoming increasingly influential.
Many companies have corporate social responsibility statements on their websites and in their annual reports but, said Mr Appleby: “People can become particularly vocal, particularly through social media, if there is an incident and a business is thought to be uncaring towards its workforce. I can see problems in that scenario.”
He suggested that the resulting “wrong type of publicity” could cause “tremendous damage” to a business, its reputation, profitability and share price.