For the majority of people, the most dangerous thing they do at work is drive on the public highway. In this feature, Gordon Tranter considers one aspect of work-related driving: the use of employees’ vehicles for business travel.
The grey fleet
“Grey fleet” is the term that refers to vehicles owned by employees that are used for making work-related journey on behalf of their employer. It is estimated that there are approximately four million grey fleet cars in the UK. In the public sector alone, the former Office of Government Commerce, now the Efficiency Reform Group, estimated that nearly 57% of “at work” mileage is covered by employees in privately-owned vehicles.
In 2010, the Government estimated that 24% of serious injuries, and 30% of road deaths could be linked to work-related road traffic accidents and therefore are likely to include a substantial number of accidents involving grey fleet vehicles. As there is no requirement to report road traffic deaths as work-related, this is likely to be an underestimate. Even using those figures, this would be on average in 2010/11 570 deaths, whereas in the same year there were 171 workers and 68 members of the public fatally injured in accidents connected to work (excluding railways-related incidents).
The main legislation that applies to work-related driving on the highway is the various UK Road Traffic Acts and related regulations. In addition, the employer has a duty under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all employees while at work. This applies to all work-related activities, including work-related driving by employees in their own cars. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 created a new offence where death is caused by a gross breach of duty of care by senior management. Where it can be proved that senior management are responsible for a gross breach of their duty of care and that causes the death of an employee driving for work, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter. This can lead to an unlimited fine and a publicity order.
The requirement on employers under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to carry out a risk assessment applies to grey fleet drivers in exactly the same way as to employees using owned or leased vehicles.
Management of the grey fleet
Effective management of the grey fleet is crucial with respect to health and safety, financial control and environmental sustainability.
The first step in managing the health and safety of journeys carried out by drivers driving their own vehicles is the risk assessment. This should initially consider whether the journey can be avoided and whether the need for the journey, or task, can be carried out equally well using video, audio-conferencing facilities, telephone, or email. When the journey is necessary, the assessment should consider:
the driver, including a check on their licence and their fitness to drive which may include areas such as health, fatigue, eyesight and alcohol/drug (medicines and recreational) use
the vehicle, including a check on whether it has an MOT certificate, service history, and the appropriate insurance
the journey, including the nature of the roads, bad weather, the schedule for the journey and whether it puts the driver under pressure to drive too fast for the conditions or to exceed speed limits
communication with the driver while on the road, including arrangements for communicating with the driver that do not involve the use of hand-held phones while driving, as the use of a hand-held mobile phones while driving is hazardous and illegal
driver management: is there a clearly defined responsibility for managing drivers using their own vehicles?
Standard car insurance is for “social, domestic and pleasure” purposes only, which permits travel to and from your normal place of work, but not use of the vehicle while at work. Employees who use their own vehicles for work-related purposes should ensure that their personal insurance policy states “for business use” to avoid invalidating their insurance. Even if the use is for convenience to travel to meetings or undertake similar work-related activities, the insurer should be informed that the vehicle will be used for “occasional business use”.
Reducing grey fleet mileage
The use of grey fleet drivers for low work-related mileage can be beneficial to the company. However, sometimes they can be hard to manage in respect of mileage, accident management and general vehicle maintenance. In addition, there are concerns about costs and the environment. Studies have shown that there are significant costs and environmental benefits available from cutting the miles claimed by employees using their own cars on business. This has led some companies to use a range of initiatives including the use of public transport or leased cars or hire cars, video conference facilities and the introduction of ultra-low emission pool cars and pool bicycles for staff to use on shorter business.
Pool bicycle schemes
Although pool bicycle schemes require investment, this can be rapidly recouped through the savings generated. Other advantages are improved health, fitness and mental well-being, improved air quality and enhanced corporate social responsibility reputation. One of the greatest benefits of cycling is the speed and convenience when making short journeys.
However, cycling can also be perceived as unattractive and unsafe, despite the evidence that it is far less healthy to live a sedentary lifestyle, and cycling is no more dangerous than car use. In addition, there has been concern about recent fatalities associated with the cycling superhighways in London and the number of fatalities caused by blind spots on HGVs.
Managing work-related cycling
Employers should not overlook that they have a duty of care for employees cycling on work-related business either on pool bicycles or on their own bicycles. They should:
ensure a risk assessment is in place
ensure the bicycles are maintained regularly so that they are safe to ride and have the correct reflectors and front and rear lights
check that their employers’ insurance policy covers the use of bicycles for work purposes
ensure that their employees are competent to ride the bicycles.
The use of pool bicycles has to be optional, unless specified in the employee’s contract. Where employees may have concerns over the use of pool bicycles, such as fears over safety, insufficient ability or confidence to ride a bike, employers can offer training to overcome these barriers. Where there are concerns over poor health and fitness, the provision of electric bicycles can be considered.
Pool bicycles provided for work should be provided with panniers to carry work equipment and accessories such as helmets, wet weather clothing and lights. Any helmets, high visibility vests and protective clothing provided to employees who use pool bicycles for work purposes should be free.
The Crime and Courts Act 2013 has inserted a new s.5A in the Road Traffic Act 1988 which will introduce a new offence of driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle while having a concentration of certain controlled drugs above specified limits in the body. This is expected to come into effect via regulations in 2014. The penalties for drug driving will range from a 12-month driving ban and fine to a prison sentence. Employers will need to consider the implications for their company and grey fleets of having a member of staff banned from driving for 12 months and the likelihood of increased company car insurance premiums if a company driver is successfully prosecuted.
Last reviewed 13 November 2013