Staying on course
20 January 2015
Dr Karen McDonnell, occupational safety and health policy adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), writes on the importance of Managing Occupational Road Risk to all employers.
In the incident in November 2011, a 26 year old speech and language therapist died after her car fell into a loch during a torrential storm. Issuing a ruling in December 2014 following a Fatal Accident Inquiry, the Stornoway Sheriff said that the death might have been avoided if the employer, NHS Western Isles, had warned the health worker not to travel to the outlying area in severe weather conditions.
During the investigation it emerged that the health board had approved a Managing Work-Related Driving Risks policy two months before the incident, but it was not placed on the staff intranet advice service until December 2011, one month after the death.
The Sheriff ruled: "While every employee has a duty to look after their own health and safety, this does not remove the responsibility of employers.”
The death sadly highlights the basic necessity for MORR for all companies, not just those with large fleet.
Between a quarter and a third of all road crashes in the UK involve someone who is driving for their job, while research shows more workers are killed or injured in work related road accidents than in all other occupational activities combined, equating to roughly 150 people killed or seriously injured in a work related crash each week.
An effectively implemented MORR strategy must come from the top down, with managers at all levels having guidance on how to manage both the expectations of the company as well as how to keep their drivers safe on the road. It also means an open company policy where drivers feel they can challenge their line manager if they are being asked to increase their risk on the road while working.
Where your employees work alone effective communication with colleagues or line managers is essential, as highlighted by the Sheriff. This case also reinforces the importance of maintaining awareness of policies and procedures within your organisation, through providing initial training and refresher sessions on their content and the employee’s role in effective implementation.
A Home Working Policy was devised by this particular health board in 2007, which stated that employees undertaking home visits, such as the victim of the accident, should ensure that there is a ‘designated responsible person who will initiate communications with the person undertaking the home visits when that person does not report or communicate back when expected’, and the Sheriff stated that the responsibility to identify that person was that of the line manager.
The policy also stated a diary should be kept by the line manager ‘outlaying all of the visits in which lone working is going to occur’. While these are excellent examples of MORR in practice in the workplace, unfortunately the Sheriff found that none of the measures were implemented.
Outside of this particular case, RoSPA has focused heavily on getting employers to take work related road risk seriously and recently commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and University College London (UCL) to carry out a strategic review of MORR, funded through the RoSPA /BNFL scholarship.
Serving as a basis for making recommendations for action to help sustain progress, the review found that all too frequently, and particularly in smaller organisations, MORR is perceived as being a marginal activity in a fleet management programme rather than an activity that should be embedded strategically at board level, as part of the occupational health and safety governance structure.
Another key message from the review was that work related road risk is not managed in the same way as general health and safety to the extent that it should be.
Managing occupational road risk is a basic requirement that all companies who have employees that drive a vehicle on company business need to consider. To help to raise awareness and have your say on how to make work related driving safer, see www.orsa.org.uk or www.scorsa.org.uk for Scotland.