Last reviewed 30 September 2016

As the UK’s highways get busier, the need to keep users as safe as possible has never been higher. Vikki Woodfine, a Partner at DWF LLP, looks at how professional HGV and PSV drivers could play a role in creating a safer environment in their workplace: the public highway.

Introduction

There are over 35 million road users in the UK and the road network is arguably the UK’s largest workplace. Like in every place of work, accidents happen, but unlike in workplaces such as factories and offices, there has never been any formal requirement to have first-aid trained employees on the road. There still is no such requirement, but as many companies look towards corporate social responsibility, they are turning to new schemes to train professional drivers in life-saving first aid. This allows drivers to feel empowered to give immediate assistance at the roadside following an accident, prior to the arrival of the emergency services.

Accident statistics

In summer 2016, the Government released figures highlighting that there were 1732 reported road deaths in 2015. While this represents a decrease of 2% compared with 2014, it is still a significant figure. Further to this, the number of people “seriously injured” in road traffic accidents last year was 22,137.

The question of preventing fatalities is not a simple one and while accident prevention is seen as a priority, the fact that incidents will occur cannot be ignored. For that reason it is important that the response to road traffic accidents is also kept in mind so that lives can be saved if an accident occurs.

Approximately 55% of deaths from road traffic collisions occur before the emergency services arrive on scene. Forty-six per cent of those fatalities could be prevented if first aid was available at an early stage. Therefore, by potentially having someone on the scene who is trained in basic first aid, can mean the difference between life and death.

Due to travel distance for emergency vehicles or congestion on the roads, it can often take up to 15 minutes or more for police, fire or ambulance services to arrive at accident scenes. The principal cause of death from the statistics referred to above is from cardiac arrest/blocked airway and this can occur for various reasons but without intervention, death will occur within four minutes.

Safety obligations

Generally, under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, employers have a responsibility to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that they protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and of non-employees that may be affected by their work.

When looking at how an operator might demonstrate that the business has done “all that is reasonably practicable” to protect professional drivers, one might first look at evidence of compliance with the standard undertakings under the Operator’s Licence. Also, it is important that operators can demonstrate that clear safety policies and procedures are in place and that employees’ adherence to those policies is effectively monitored. Examples might include policies relating to the use of mobile phones or drugs and alcohol.

With up to one in three road crashes involving a vehicle being driven for work, employers cannot ignore the “mobile workplace” of their drivers. Every week, around 200 deaths and serious injuries on the road involve someone at work. Therefore, the first step for employers in seeking to play their part in reducing these statistics is effective training and monitoring of their own workforce. Ensuring that drivers are not tired, pressured into working when unwell, not distracted in their vehicle (ie through mobile telephones and in-cab computers) and are driving properly maintained vehicles, are all example of basic requirements that have come to be expected of employers engaging professional drivers.

However, seeking to take this one step further, what can operators do above and beyond the now accepted “norms” of safe practice to play their part in reducing deaths and serious injuries on the UK road network?

Driver CPC accredited training

A number of schemes have been launched in the UK with the vision that, in the unfortunate event of a road traffic collision, there are individuals trained in first aid and accident management on the scene. Some of these courses are Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) accredited, to ensure that drivers can properly capture the benefit of the training. There are a number of first aid courses that are Driver CPC accredited.

Creating a network of professional drivers across UK highways who are trained in life-saving first aid would in turn create an increased possibility of avoiding deaths on the road following road traffic collisions. Where emergency services cannot get to a scene within a few minutes, somebody suffering from cardiac arrest or a blocked airway could simply lose their life. However, transport operators are being encouraged by emergency services, Traffic Commissioners and their trade associations to seek to change these statistics by giving their employees the skills to assist in these scenarios. The Senior Traffic Commissioner, Beverley Bell, has spoken at a number of industry events about the importance of operators engaging in this type of initiative and the Road Haulage Association have written of their positive experiences in attending such training.

Good Samaritan risk?

Often, a concern that people hold when deciding whether to try and help at the scene of an accident is the risk of being sued if their assistance caused further complications. As well as a personal concern, companies can be anxious of any corporate risk of an intervention to assist going wrong. There is, after all, no general legal duty for members of the public to assist in the aftermath of an incident. Similarly with professional drivers (even those trained in first aid), there is no requirement or expectation that they should intervene if they were to come across the scene of an accident.

However, the risks of potential civil or criminal liability by assisting at an accident scene are minimal. It is highly unlikely that any UK court would seek to fundamentally change the law by allowing a “good Samaritan” member of the public or professional driver to be formally pursued for compensation if they offered assistance.

One of the Driver CPC courses, the Driver First Assist (DFA) first-aid scheme, offers its members automatic indemnity insurance, which would indemnify them in the very unlikely circumstance that they intervene to assist at a road traffic collision and a claim is made against them.

The benefit to corporates

Road traffic collisions cost the UK economy in the region of £1.5 billion a year, have huge impact on delivery schedules and cause terrible human tragedy. Creating a community of trained professional drivers on our roads will not only potentially allow emergency services to reopen roads more quickly, thus allowing professional drivers to resume services, but of course can assist immeasurably in lowering fatality figures.

Professional drivers are required to complete an average of 7.5 hours accredited training per year under the Driver CPC scheme. There are no “mandatory” courses under the scheme for general drivers of HGVs, buses and coaches and therefore there is a real opportunity for operators to seek to train their drivers in courses that have added benefits beyond simply ticking the box for the mandatory 7.5 hours’ training. Training a driver in life-saving first aid offers the opportunity to have increased skills among the workforce. The benefit of this could be seen as being three-fold.

  1. Drivers trained in life-saving first aid and incident management have said that they feel a sense of pride in the role and welcome the opportunity to gain a useful skill under their Driver CPC.

  2. Companies are able to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility by being involved in such an overall scheme. With the strong backing of the Traffic Commissioners, it certainly cannot harm the company’s image to move towards training their drivers in such skills.

  3. Generally, public perception of the transport industry is low. Consequently, creating a trained workforce of first aiders for members of the public to turn to in a time of crisis on the road can only improve the industry’s image among the public.

The benefit to drivers

An inevitable consequence of spending the bulk of your working life on the road will be that at some stage drivers will find themselves at the scene of a road traffic accident that may involve casualties. Empowering a driver to feel confident in managing that scene, protecting it from further interference and seeking to provide first aid to anybody injured, is a positive step for any operator and driver.

By going on such training and gaining first-aid skills does not mean that a driver is obliged to assist at the scene of a road traffic accident. There is no obligation on a driver to step in, particularly if the driver comes across a particularly distressing scene. However, by completing life-saving first aid courses, drivers have the option to step in and help, against the background of being trained in how to respond to such a scene.

Concluding thoughts

In the current market where there is a continued concern over driver shortages, operators are increasingly looking to different ways of retaining drivers beyond simply increasing wages. By showing a commitment to training and developing drivers in other useful skills to sit alongside their “day job” may assist in retaining drivers. Also, by looking to introduce a scheme where drivers are trained in accident scene management and life-saving first aid, operators may create a more positive culture within their business. This could assist with driver retention, but also could provide a benefit to the external perception of the business, which could ultimately make a difference in customer tenders and sales. Most importantly though, if just one life can be saved through training drivers in life-saving first aid, this surely has to be worth a look.