27 April 2015

Dr Karen McDonnell, occupational safety and health policy adviser at RoSPA, writes that a company’s responsibility to its employees goes beyond simply keeping them safe at work and states the case for robust monitoring of fitness to work.

As organisations focus on continually improving their in-work health and safety policies and procedures, it is as important as ever for them not to lose sight of the bigger picture when it comes to looking after employees.

Employers’ duties extend beyond the front door of the workplace, beginning even before the individual staff member is hired, and include supporting them should the worst happen.

Prior to being handed a role, just as a candidate’s skills would be assessed to ensure they are able to do the job at hand, so too must their health and fitness be measured if they are carrying out tasks that carry elements of risk - particularly driving, as it is the single most dangerous work related activity that any person can perform.

And it’s important that, if an employee does experience an accident or illness and needs to take time off work, proper procedures are in place to manage their return to work. Robust processes must also be in place to ensure employees have the confidence to report when their health or ability to perform tasks changes.

Employers have a duty to ensure that their staff members are fit for work, including driving and, where necessary, must arrange for periodic health surveillance. Drivers are also responsible for ensuring that they do not drive when they are not fit to do so and that they report to their employer any condition that affects their ability to drive safely.

Health impairments, including stress, sleep disturbance, migraine, flu, severe colds or hayfever can lead to unsafe driving, as can the treatment for these conditions. Driving itself, if not properly managed, may lead to a deterioration in health or aggravate pre-existing conditions.

Relevant health issues should always be considered in driving risk assessments, but few workers enjoy perfect health so a sense of proportion needs to be maintained, and unfair discrimination must be avoided.

The DVLA sets minimum medical standards and rules for drivers that all employers and people who drive for work should be aware of and follow. It is a criminal offence for a driver not to report to the DVLA any condition that affects their ability to drive safely.

The Highway Code rules on drugs and medicine were also changed in March this year, which now state drivers must not get behind the wheel if certain medicines in the blood are above specified limits. Employers and their drivers should ensure they know which drugs are affected by these changes.

Procedures should be in place to tackle a whole range of issues that could potentially arise; long term illnesses that could compromise safe driving should be kept under review; a common-sense approach should be taken to those who contract short term illnesses; driving for work should be included within the scope of an organisation’s stress risk assessments.

All of this information, and other advice to employers, can be found in the Driving For Work: Fitness To Drive resource on the RoSPA website.

Despite the excellent health and safety record British workplaces have achieved, making them the safest in the world, unfortunately accidents and illness do still happen, and it is down to employers to ensure that staff return to work as quickly as possible, in a way that is well managed.

The HSE states that good practice should include keeping in regular contact with the employee, having them regularly review their situation with their GP, holding return to work discussions about the causes of the absence and any adjustments that should be made and, where applicable, employing a staged return.

Reasonable adjustments should be made to enable them to return. This is also the case for those who were off for stress related reasons. In those cases, think about practical adjustments such as reducing workload, changing tasks, clarifying their job description and keeping them fully involved and consulted on any alterations.