Last reviewed 26 August 2020

Gordon Tranter examines how to risk assess for those who drive at work.

Driving is probably the highest risk activity that any UK employee will undertake on behalf of their organisation. It is estimated that around a third of road deaths and serious injuries each year involve people driving for work. Despite this, the risks from occupational driving tend to be overlooked.

This article describes some of the factors that need to be considered in an assessment to minimise occupational road risk from the use of fleet and private car driving at work.

Company car accidents

A 2015 report into the true extent of company car accidents by the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ (now known as IAMRoadSmart included the following findings.

  • A shocking 86% of fleets had experienced an accident in the past year, with more than 78% having had at least one incident causing damage.

  • Every fleet had had an “on-road” incident where one of their drivers was “at fault”.

  • Nearly half of all fleets had incidents involving repeat offenders.

  • Nearly 30% of respondents said incidents had happened while parking or parked.

  • Only 33% of fleets said at-fault drivers faced some sort of punitive measure (eg fine, excess payments).

The report also found that nearly three-quarters of those who drove for business reasons had been offered no training by their employer. Certainly no steps were routinely taken to reduce the number of driving incidents.

The costs

The most obvious cost of road accidents is the cost of repairs. A study by What Car found that the average cost of repairing a car after an accident is £1678. These costs are rising. Sensors, cameras and radars fitted to cars in vulnerable areas, such as the bumper and behind the windscreen, are regularly getting damaged and are expensive to replace. As well as incurring repair costs, the residual value of the vehicle is likely to fall.

The true costs of failing to effectively manage the risks of driving are not just those of the damage to the car. Other costs include:

  • increased insurance premiums

  • working days lost due to injury

  • investigation and paperwork

  • legal costs

  • lost time due to work rescheduling

  • fewer vehicles available

  • missed orders and business opportunities.

Health risks

In addition to losses resulting from accidents, driving can lead to work-related ill health including stress from traffic congestion and having to drive to meet demanding timetables, fatigue, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease caused by long hours driving, and health effects caused by exposure to environmental pollutants such as diesel fumes, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides present in vehicle fumes.

The legal requirements

The Road Traffic Acts and the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations are the main pieces of legislation that apply to driving on the road, whether or not it is a work-based activity. Under various Road Traffic Acts and regulations, employers must ensure that vehicles used for work purposes are safe and legal to be on the road. Drivers must be properly licensed and insured.

Employers who fail to ensure this can be charged with “cause or permit”. The police/Crown Prosecution Service/Procurator Fiscal in Scotland can prosecute employers of employees driving a company car under “cause or permit” provisions of road traffic law. This offence involves knowledge on the part of the employer that the vehicle, driver or activity was unlawful can constitute an employer committing an offence. Employers will be guilty of an offence if they require or permit their staff who drive for work, to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving.

Employers also have duties under health and safety law for on-the-road work activities. They are required by the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 to ensure the health and safety of all employees while at work and to ensure that others are not put at risk by their work-related driving activities. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require a risk assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees while they are at work, and to other people who may be affected by the work activities.

The risk assessment

The HSE now recommends the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” system for integrating health and safety into the overall management system. The HSE’s leaflet INDG382 Driving at Work: Managing Work-related Road Safety describes the application this approach to driving at work.

An integral part of the Plan, Do, Check, Act approach is the identification and assessment of risks; what could cause harm in the workplace; who it could harm and how; what will be done to manage the risk; what the priorities are and what are the biggest risks.

The assessment of occupational driving needs to consider:

  • the safety of the driver

  • the safety of the vehicle

  • whether the journey is safe

  • activities other than driving

  • risks to health.

Safe driver

The assessment needs to determine whether the driver is competent and capable of doing their work in a way that is safe for them and other people. This should include checking the following.

  • Does the driver hold a current licence and have they got any endorsements?

  • Is the driver fit to drive? This may include considering areas such as: health, fatigue, being able to satisfy the eyesight requirements set out in the Highway Code, alcohol/drug use and whether they are taking a course of medicine that might impair their ability to drive. Employers should be aware of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which amended the Road Traffic Act 1988 to include an offence of driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle while having a concentration of certain controlled drugs, which include some prescription and non-prescription medicines, above specified limits in the body.

Safe vehicle

The assessment should determine whether the vehicles:

  • are fit for the purpose for which they are used

  • are maintained in a safe and fit condition

  • have daily checks, and tyres and windscreen wipers are inspected regularly and replaced as necessary

  • have safety equipment, for instance first-aid equipment, the warning triangle and arrangements for help

  • have appropriate insurance.

There should be clear arrangements for drivers to report any defects and to ensure that unsafe vehicles are not driven.

Safe journey

The risk assessment should initially consider whether the journey can be avoided and whether the purpose of the journey, or task, can be fulfilled equally well using video, audio-conferencing facilities, telephone, or email. If the journey is necessary, the assessment should consider the following.

  • Have the drivers been given clear instructions about how to keep themselves safe while on the road?

  • The nature of the roads and the weather conditions. Could a safer route be used? Do drivers feel pressured to complete journeys in exceptional weather conditions? Do they know who to contact if they need to cancel a journey? Are vehicles properly equipped to operate in poor weather conditions?

  • Does the schedule for the journey put the driver under pressure that may encourage them to drive too fast for the conditions, or to exceed speed limits?

  • Do the journey times allow for rest breaks? (The Highway Code recommends that drivers should take a 15 minute break every 2 hours.)

  • Is there a risk of the driver suffering from fatigue? Is the driver being asked to work an exceptionally long day? Is the driver being asked to drive excessive distances without appropriate breaks?

  • Are the drivers aware they must not use a hand-held mobile phone while driving? Are there arrangements for communicating with the driver which do not involve the use of their phone while driving?

Safe non-driving activities

The assessment should consider activities other than driving that are related to the journey, for example journeys that involve:

  • delivering loads that necessitate manual handling

  • lone working in remote or potentially dangerous areas

  • the transport of dangerous goods or animals.

Assessment health risks

The assessment should also consider aspects of occupational driving that can lead to work-related ill health, for example:

  • aspects of the job that can lead to stress, particularly pressure from demanding timetables

  • fatigue, long working hours, inadequate rest breaks, long journeys on monotonous roads, poor weather and traffic conditions, time pressure and medications that can cause drowsiness

  • cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease caused by long hours driving; driving posture also causes problems for the digestive system

  • health effects caused by exposure to environmental pollutants such as diesel fumes, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides present in vehicle fumes

  • musculoskeletal problems, for instance from inappropriate seating position or driving posture and the position of head restraints; are drivers provided with guidance on good posture and how to set their seat correctly?

Driving-at-work policy

Where companies have employees carrying out work-related driving, their policy should outline the health and safety precautions that need to be taken to control the risks. It should include:

  • local rules for driving-at-work activities, including arrangements to ensure that drivers do not drive for any excessive period and that they have provisions for regular rest breaks and for their personal safety

  • a system to determine if the journey is essential and whether alternative means could be used

  • a mechanism in place to ensure that staff are qualified to drive for the company

  • the system to ensure that all vehicles are maintained in a roadworthy condition and comply with legal requirements

  • details of the induction training and other training

  • arrangements for:

    • reporting accidents and incidents

    • vehicle defects

    • any changes in the driver’s circumstances such as penalty points, changes in insurer or vehicle used or use of any prescription medication or changes to health that affect their ability to drive safely

  • the procedure for post-incident investigations to help identify common causes and possible solutions.

In cases where there is evidence to suggest drivers are driving too fast and there is a risk of accidents, the use of safety features, such as telematics to monitor speeds could be considered.

Private car use for work

Many small organisations are oblivious to their legal occupational road risk management responsibilities in relation to employees who drive their own cars on business trips. This can be on occasions, when it is convenient to use their private car to travel short distances, and/or for infrequent journeys for work purposes. On the other hand, it may be used regularly for travelling to other sites or customers. Such arrangements are termed grey fleets.

Many employers fail to recognise that the fact that employees use their own private vehicles for business purposes does not release the company from their duty of care responsibilities. In addition, failure to manage the use of employee's cars for work has the potential for the employer to be subject to serious legal action(s).

Consequently, a risk assessment covering the areas described earlier in this feature is required. The assessment should take into account that the average age of a fleet car is about two years, whereas that for a grey fleet car is seven. The older vehicles are likely to be missing many advanced safety features which would be standard equipment on the newer company cars and consequently may have a greater likelihood of being involved in an accident.

For private car drivers, it should include a regular check on their licence, their fitness to drive and a check on whether the car has an MOT certificate, has been serviced in line with manufacturers' recommendations, and has the appropriate insurance. The requirements for private car drivers and their cars could include stipulating that an employee can only drive their own car for work if it falls within a range of safety rating, age and engine size.

A quick note on the increase of homeworking following lockdown. Organisations will need to look carefully at employment contracts if roles that were previously designated as office-based change to being officially home-based. In these cases, journeys into the office by car would no longer be classed as commuting but would most likely count as business mileage. For this use, the car would be classed as a grey fleet car and would need to be managed as part of the organisation's grey fleet.

More detailed information on the use of private cars for work activities is available in Grey Fleet Management.

Risk profiling

The HSE guidance HSG65 Managing for Health and Safety includes risk profiling as an integral part of managing for health and safety. The risk profile of an organisation covers all aspects of the approach to leading and managing its health and safety risks. It enables the organisation to determine its greatest health and safety issues. In addition, health and safety issues can impact in other areas such as quality, the environment and asset damage.

Changes to the arrangements for driving for work do not take place in isolation they can impact on other aspects of the business for example costs, the company’s carbon footprint and its public image.