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Dangerous driving

11 March 2019

The most dangerous activity people do at work is driving so managing occupational road risk needs to be a key priority for companies, says Adam Grinsell.

Driving is the most dangerous work activity that most people do. Police accident data shows that every year almost one-third of road deaths in the UK – more than 500 people – are killed in collisions involving motorists who are driving for work. On top of that, there are a further 5,000 who are seriously injured, and 40,000 who are slightly injured. This includes other road users, as well as the at-work drivers.

Few organisations can operate without using the road network and as a consequence, occupational road risk is likely to be their biggest safety issue.

And yet, organisations have been slow to recognise this and driving for work is still being treated as the poor cousin of occupational health and safety.

Road crashes during the course of work, even minor ones, are a major cause of loss and a threat to corporate morale and reputation. All employers have duties of care to their staff and the people that they interact with, and thus need to manage this risk within the overall framework that they should have in place for managing health and safety generally (policies, organisation, procedures).

Outside of the moral and bottom-line reasons to properly manage this issue, there are very real and stark legal implications too. The HSE’s Driving at Work guidelines stat that “health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities, and the risks should be effectively manages within a health and safety system”

And while the majority of road safety law applies to drivers as individuals and their behaviour, various road traffic acts and regulations also require employers to ensure that vehicles used for work purposes are safe and legal to be on the road, and that drivers are properly licensed and insured. Employers can be held accountable for various “cause or permit” road traffic offences, such as causing or permitting someone to use a handheld mobile while at the wheel, use a vehicle in a dangerous condition, or drive on the road without a valid licence or insurance.

Whether large or small, organisations need to have a systematic way of assessing and eliminating or controlling the risks caused by their use of vehicles on the road.

Managing occupational road risk (MORR) is a concept developed by RoSPA in 1996. It should be a continuous process and part of the way an organisation manages its operations. It is never a one-off series of ‘fit-and-forget’ technical tweaks or interventions; it's a long-term management challenge, keeping the organisation up to the mark (reducing unnecessary travel, safe journeys, safe vehicles, safe driving), and learning and improving.

Important though they may be, it is not just about specific measures like licence and vehicle checking, driver assessment, driver training or even use of in-car technology to track driver/vehicle behaviours. 

Assess risks

MORR is primarily about having the right policies, people and processes in place to work the problem, all underpinned by the right attitudes, leadership and overall safety values/culture. By getting these things right, risks can then be assessed, appropriate measures taken, outputs and outcomes can be monitored and lessons can be learned that can be fed back to improve overall road safety performance. Although it will look different in either case, this is just as true for an SME as it is for a major corporate.

Those businesses that have a strategic, quality assurance (plan, do, check, act) approach to delivering against their business goals will find this idea easier to develop than those that do not. No measurement means no management.

Crucially, everyone connected with the organisation’s operations on the road has responsibilities for safety, but the lead responsibility rests with the board and senior managers. It is they, helped by their advisers, who have to set and communicate expectations, approve plans, allocate time and resources and insist that the management chain makes MORR happen, providing visible, felt leadership in the way they approach road safety themselves.

There is a world of difference between those organisations where work-related road safety is delegated to the fleet manager and those where there is a real team-based approach involving fleet, health and safety, HR, occupational health, safety reps, insurers, vehicle providers and others, all led by senior management and delivered, like all other health and safety outcomes, via line managers.

MORR cannot just be delegated to ‘health and safety’ or to ‘fleet’ or to ‘HR’. Line managers and supervisors of all those staff who use the road in the course of their job have a key role to play. Training should not be limited to drivers – their line managers and supervisors also need training and peer support. And workers too need be involved, both as individuals and, where they have them, through their representatives.

Those that ‘get’ managing for health and safety (for example, if they have achieved ISO 45001) will easily ‘get’ MORR. But those who see health and safety as just a long list of compliance actions may think MORR is just about things like licence checks, having a driver handbook, disciplinary procedures and re-training for drivers who crash, driver training for all (regardless of competence/exposure), having an accident form, banning handheld mobiles, fitting in-car technology, having higher specification cars, or circulating messages about safer driving. These interventions may or may not be appropriate, but there is often the tendency to pluck them at random out of a catalogue, when they should be carefully selected, and based on some kind of analysis and management decision-making process. 

But before any business can take steps to improve road safety in its operations, it needs to carry out an initial status, ‘where are you now?’, review: How many vehicles? How many drivers? How many miles? How many crashes/near-misses? Causes? Costs? Has it got a clear MORR policy, and a plan with targets? What are the objectives? Have these been consulted on? Have they been communicated? Are they ‘owned’, particularly by line managers and drivers? Have they triaged their main risks? What have they done so far to eliminate or reduce risk? What risk reduction measures have they taken? Have they trained their managers? Are they tracking their implementation? Are they checking to see if these measures are actually making a difference? Are they collecting data on and learning from accidents and incidents? Are they making time and space and involving the right people to review performance regularly against plans and targets? Are they improving? Are they rewarding and celebrating success?

The aim with any initial status review should be to see what is already in place around the ‘plan, do, check, act’ cycle and to find out what is missing. There has to be a focus on the organisation's capacity to manage occupational road risk effectively, not just on the ability and motivation of their drivers to drive safely. A good test of whether there really is a joined up management approach, or whether the MORR agenda has simply been delegated to ‘fleet’, is to look to see whether drivers' line managers are fully involved (being trained and accountable) and whether there is meaningful employee engagement and consultation.

Once this thorough, initial assessment and gap analysis has taken place, the continuous plan, do, check, act cycle can begin.

Intelligent approach

An intelligent approach will incorporate periodic and well-structured senior management performance reviews, bringing in all the disciplines to look in-depth at trends, not just crashes but upstream issues such as driver behaviours (from telematics) and attitudes (from climate surveys). And they will also look radically at other options such as optimising travel plans, reducing road travel, and integrating MORR with other health and safety issues like site transport safety, manual handling, and loading and unloading.

So, organisations need to be honest with themselves – are they taking an ad hoc, ill-conceived approach to managing their road risk, or are they really being strategic in their approach?

RoSPA has a range of free guidance for those unsure of the answer or encountering the subject for the first time, and for those looking to take management of their occupational road risk to the next level, we also have a range of consultancy and training services to suit. And don’t forget, the best of the best should also be entering the RoSPA Health and Safety Awards to secure recognition for their achievements and to show others what good looks like. 

Adam Grinsell is acting head of engagement at ROSPA. For more information, visit www.rospa.com