Last reviewed 18 November 2016

Driving is one of the most dangerous activities that workers do, and driving for work tends to be riskier than driving for private reasons. Stephen Flounders of System Concepts advises on the practical steps employers can take to reduce the risks.

Driving is an essential part of the working day for workers in the UK. There are millions of people driving cars, vans, motorcycles and other vehicles for work.

According to the Department for Transport, there were 1800 road deaths in the year ending June 2016, a similar figure to the year before. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) reports that more than a quarter of road traffic accidents are estimated to involve somebody driving as part of their work.

Health and safety law applies to work activities on the road in the same way it applies to other work activities. Employers need to manage the risks to drivers as part of their arrangements for managing health and safety. While it may be difficult for an employer to exercise the same control over hazards to employees when they are driving as in the workplace, there are practical steps it can take to reduce the risks.

How safe are your drivers?

Employers must consider a range of factors that may influence how safe each driver is. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, the considerations will vary depending on the individual driver, the vehicle they drive and the nature of the driving they do for work.

First, drivers must be competent and capable of doing their work in a way that is safe for them and others. Things to consider include:

  • determining what levels of skills and expertise are required to do the job safely

  • identifying any specific requirements for drivers, ie a valid licence for the type of vehicle they will be driving

  • deciding what training to provide to drivers, including any special requirements for those with high annual mileage or poor accident records

  • ensuring that refresher training is provided at suitable intervals.

Think about what information and instructions drivers might need on how to keep themselves, and others, safe while on the road. Such information might include:

  • how to carry out routine safety checks, such as checking that vehicle lights are working

  • how to keep safe if the vehicle breaks down

  • the height of the vehicle, both laden and empty, so the driver knows whether he or she will be able to pass through certain areas with height restrictions

  • how to correctly use and adjust any safety equipment in the vehicles, eg seat belts.

Drivers must also be sufficiently fit and healthy. Physical and mental health plays a major part in a person’s fitness to drive. Employees must inform the DVLA of any medical condition that may affect their ability to drive, and they should also tell their employer about such conditions or other factors. Some of the main considerations are as follows.

  • Eyesight — In good daylight, a driver must be able to read a vehicle number plate from 20m (or from 20.5m for old-style number plates). If glasses or contact lenses are needed to drive, then these must be worn at all times when driving. All drivers should also have their eyesight checked at least every two years, or more often if recommended by an optician.

  • Alcohol — Alcohol makes drivers more likely to take risks. It slows reactions, affects judgment and reduces the field of vision. It is also important to consider the effects of alcohol on a driver the morning after they have been drinking. Organisations should have a clear policy on alcohol and ensure that employees understand and abide by it.

  • Drugs and medicines — It is illegal and dangerous to drive if unfit to do so because of drugs or medicines. Any drivers taking prescription drugs should take advice from their doctor about whether they are able to drive while taking their medication. As with alcohol, the organisation should have a clear policy on drugs and medicines.

How safe are your vehicles?

The vehicles used by employees must be fit for purpose. If an organisation provides company vehicles, they should always be procured from a reputable supplier. Company vehicles must be properly registered, taxed, have a valid MOT, are serviced regularly and have the correct type of insurance.

If drivers use their own vehicle, then employers still have a duty to ensure that it is safe and legal when it is being used for work, which means checking that their vehicle has a valid MOT and is serviced regularly. Drivers must also ensure that their insurance policy includes business use cover.

Organisations need to be confident that the vehicles used by employees are safe for each journey they will make. Pre-use checks are a helpful way of doing this, and should include checking that:

  • there are no obvious signs of vehicle damage or defect

  • tyres are undamaged, at the correct pressure and have enough tread depth

  • oil, coolant and windscreen wash levels are correct

  • there is enough fuel for the journey

  • brakes, lights and indicators are working

  • washers and wipers are working

  • mirrors are correctly positioned.

There should also be clear processes for drivers to report faults, and to prevent them using vehicles which may be unsafe until they have been repaired.

How safe is the journey?

Drivers and their managers need to be given sufficient time and resources to plan journeys. This will help ensure that journeys are completed safely, and reduce the risk of crashes and other incidents.

Every journey should be planned in advance. Employees should take account of the road type, hazards such as road works and peak traffic times. Adverse weather conditions and the impact the weather is likely to have on the journey and the safety of the driver must also be considered.

One of the most important things for the organisation is to ensure that drivers are not at risk of falling asleep at the wheel. There are a number of steps the organisation can take to do this, including:

  • reducing the distances that drivers are expected to drive, eg by setting in-house maximum driving distances per day, per week, per month and per year

  • controlling the hours that an employee drives, eg ensuring that drivers do not drive continuously for more than two hours without at least a 15-minute break

  • planning drivers’ schedules to reduce night driving and to take account of weather conditions, traffic conditions and speed restrictions

  • enabling employees to stay overnight when they have to travel a long distance

  • planning shift arrangements to ensure that drivers are not at an increased risk of driving while fatigued, particularly if employees rotate between day and night shifts.

Employers should provide suitable information and training to drivers to enable them to plan safer journeys. Promoting a positive safety culture where they are able to raise concerns will also help to protect drivers and reduce the chances of incidents occurring.

Managing work-related road safety can help reduce risks to an organisation. Taking steps to ensure that drivers, vehicles and journeys are safe will help comply with the law, protect drivers and other road users from harm, and avoid financial costs associated with unsafe driving.