Snow and the risks to companies with employees travelling for business purposes

The snow has caused chaos for many UK businesses where working from home is not an option. The risks have now risen for businesses that have not considered their work related road safety (WRRS) policy for employees that have to drive for work.

Under the new revisions to the corporate manslaughter act and corporate homicide act, companies and senior management are accountable in the case of a fatal work related collision for any shortcomings in the procedures or systems that may be deemed to have contributed to the incident. This means that if there is a fatality, employers can now be investigated if it was during working hours.

Many companies that insist on employees making their way into work, despite the extreme conditions should consider their responsibilities under the new Corporate Manslaughter Act.

Despite ongoing publicity surrounding the revisions to the corporate manslaughter act and corporate homicide act which came into force in April 2008 many companies, particularly SME’s have chosen to bury their heads in the sand and are failing to review, implement and communicate an effective Work Related Road Safety (WRRS) policy.

Under the new rules, companies and senior management are accountable in the case of a fatal work related collision for any shortcomings in the procedures or systems that may be deemed to have contributed to the incident.

Research carried out by Rent-A-Car shows that more than one in three workers (35 per cent) use their car for business purposes, making it the most common form of business transport.

Providing “cash for cars” does not mean that a company absolves itself of responsibility for ensuring the safety of these vehicles and their drivers. Managing the safety of these so called “grey fleet” drivers is difficult but cannot be ignored.

Employers with responsibility for employees driving their own cars on business should take the following precautions:

  • Set up a company work related road safety policy: employers should not be daunted by the prospect, and once in place, providing it is enforced and reviewed periodically, it has been proven by many organisations to save money in terms of insurance premiums, accident repairs, out of service costs, accident administration, and employee sick leave/work injuries etc. Risk-assess the fleet across the five core areas: legislation, health and safety, environmental, employee and financial. Set out rules, guidelines and procedures to help minimize “in house” fleet and “grey fleet” related risks and put in place regular checks on insurance, MOT document’s, scheduled servicing and ensure basic maintenance checks are regularly carried out. Finally, ensure that an efficient audit trail is in place.
  • Compile a “Driver Manual”: a driver manual should contain the company policy and procedures, safe driving information, emergency contact information, procedures for reporting defects and repairs, what should be done in the case of an accident and outline essential vehicle checks. It should be in A5 format, concise and easy to read and include practical advice.
  • Treat all drivers the same: whether the employee is in a company car or drives their own vehicle (grey fleet), they should be treated exactly the same. The company work related road safety policy, driver manual and related training should be provided to all drivers. Businesses should ensure that all drivers regularly maintain their vehicles. Regular checks by the company should be made on:
    • Fluid levels and battery.
    • Lights and windscreen wipers.
    • Tyre pressures and tread levels: 1.6mm of tread over the centre 3/4 width of the tyre is the legal minimum; tyres should be changed before this to avoid police prosecution and to maintain the required levels of grip. The police have the power to fine drivers up to £2500 plus three penalty points per tyre for less than minimum treads.
    • Ensure the driver has adequate insurance that allows the car to be used for business purposes. Both the driver and the employer can be fined if the car is not insured adequately and may find that they are not covered in the event of an accident.
    • Ensure the car has regular MOTs and is taxed for the road.
  • Check driving licenses: check any new employees driving license to confirm that they are eligible to drive. Implement a regular check on driving licenses to keep track of penalty points and possible driving bans and maintain a driver file to monitor driver’s safety records and behaviour.
  • Ensure all drivers are prepared in the event of an emergency: company car users should be equipped with safety packs including torch, high visibility clothing, warning triangle, and breakdown contact information. Employers should ensure grey fleet drivers are supplied with exactly the same safety equipment.
  • Ensure every driver carries a high visibility vest for each passenger: It is also important to store medical and emergency contact information as well as essential vehicle details and roadside assistance contact information inside the passenger cell of the vehicle together with the high visibility vests so that it is easily accessible.
  • Education: carry out training where appropriate and warn against drugs and alcohol whilst driving. It is also important to give drivers plenty of time to get to their next location and don’t set impossible schedules – this is especially relevant in the delivery and courier sector where the setting of productivity bonuses which might affect driver safety will be viewed upon  negatively in the event of a road traffic incident. 

The revisions to the corporate manslaughter act provide stronger powers for the police and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to conduct investigations following an incident into a company’s provision of adequate health and safety at work policies. In a concerted attempt to reduce road deaths and casualties Work Related Road Safety (WRRS) is firmly under the spotlight and relates to the safety of employees who drive as part of their work. This is understandable when it is suggested that at least 30 per cent of road collisions involve people who are at work and more recent figures suggest that 50 per cent may be a more realistic figure.

In April 2008, revisions to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force in the UK.  The Act enables an organisation to be found guilty of an offence under the Act, if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death, and amounts to a gross breach or failure of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. The result of being found guilty of an offence under this Act is that organisations can now face unlimited fines – set to start at five per cent of annual turnover.

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