Last reviewed 28 March 2017

In this article, Mike Sopp looks at the safety aspects of managing a workplace pool bike scheme.

Introduction

For many years, businesses have been running cycle-to-work schemes that enable employees to purchase through their employer pedal bicycles that they can then use to travel to and from work. The purposes of the schemes are to promote healthier journeys to work and to reduce environmental pollution.

With the UK’s major urban centres becoming ever more congested, travelling for work purposes can impact on productivity. Combined with increased awareness by organisations of environmental issues and wanting to improve workers health and wellbeing, there are now organisations adopting “pool-bikes-for-business” schemes.

However, if introducing such a scheme, employers will need to be aware of and manage the safety aspects of such a scheme.

Initial planning

Despite modern technologies in the workplace, many employees still have to travel as part of their everyday working activities.

With the UK having some of the most congested roads and unreliable public transport systems of any industrialised country, it is estimated by the think-tank Policy Exchange that this is costing the UK economy £20 billion a year.

A workplace pool bike scheme provides employees with a means of travelling for example, to meetings, between sites or when visiting clients by pedal bike. In addition to improved productivity, a pool-bike-for-business scheme can:

  • generate financial benefits for the employer (eg less fares)

  • benefit staff through improved health, fitness and mental wellbeing

  • help improve air quality and present a positive public image

  • enhance an organisation’s corporate social responsibility reputation.

When looking at the case for implementing a scheme, health and safety issues may be one of the risk factors that the organisation will need to consider. The starting point is to recognise that employees using pedal cycles for work activities will be deemed to be at work and as such the requirements of health and safety legislation will apply.

As with all work activities, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment can help inform decisions as to cost versus benefit. Factors to consider will include:

  • the type of journeys employees have to make (when, how often, how far)

  • what employees need to take with them when making the journey

  • where the organisation is located (eg busy road, urban, rural)

  • current cyclist friendly infrastructure availability

  • barriers to using pedal cycles from staff (eg welfare facilities and safety fears).

It is worth noting that according to Transport for London guidance “cycling need not be any more risky than other activities carried out during the working day” and that “the British Medical Association has stated that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks”.

Equipment selection

As mentioned, employees will be deemed to be at work and as such the relevant regulations will apply. In summary, organisations will need to consider the following:

  • pedal bicycles safety when ridden

  • appropriate safety equipment to be provided

  • cyclists competency to ride the bikes

  • the employer, riders and bikes insurance cover.

Thought will need to be given to the type and number of pedal bicycles required. Factors impacting on this will be the profile of potential users, the type of use, carrying of equipment, storage availability both onsite and at destination sites, etc. Therefore the actual bicycle chosen could be a hybrid, folding, mountain or even electric.

If there are no overwhelming reasons to choose one over the other then it may be good practice to ask employees to select their preferred model, choosing a selection to suit as many people as possible.

In addition, all bikes should have the correct reflectors and front (white) and rear (red) lights as it is a legal requirement that lights are used when cycling at night. The provision of panniers to store goods and locks for when cycles are not in secure storage facilities should be considered.

Although the wearing of cycle helmets, gloves and reflective garments is not a legal requirement for pedal cyclists and is outside the remit of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations, the employer should be determining through the risk assessment the need for such items.

If the employer does decide to provide such items, then thought will need to be given to whether such items are issued to individuals or whether there is a “pool” of such items of equipment. However, employees are most likely to use helmets that are dedicated for their own use due to concerns over hygiene.

Other factors to consider will be the provision of appropriate cycle storage areas and welfare facilities including where necessary adequate shower/washing facilities and storage for items such as cycle helmets, etc.

Another concern may be levels of pollution, particularly in cities with heavy traffic being present. This could certainly be an issue where individuals are regularly exposed for long periods of time and may have underlying health problems. Face masks can be purchased to filter the air that an individual breathes and are a common sight in major cities.

Capabilities, fitness and maintenance

One area that can be somewhat problematic is ensuring that employees being encouraged to use the bicycles are capable and fit to do so.

Studies of current schemes indicate a number of approaches. Certainly, many organisations (such as police services) require those who have never ridden pedal cycles to undertake a proficiency assessment before authorising them to use pool bikes.

Other options include the provision of informative leaflets, for example, reminding employees to check the condition of the bicycle before using it, to employees being asked to self-certify that they are competent and understand the Highway Code requirements. However, it should be noted that disclaimers do not absolve an organisation from liability in terms of providing roadworthy equipment.

Medicals are also a potential issue and some organisations are asking employees to complete a medical questionnaire before authorising pedal bike usage.

In more formal systems where capabilities and fitness are deemed to be prerequisites to using scheme bicycles, employers should keep a register of approved users and have in place a system for booking bicycles in and out.

Pedal bicycles must be maintained regularly to ensure they are safe to ride. A maintenance schedule should be set up, for example, in consultation with the supplier of the bikes with any maintenance service reflecting the anticipated level of use of the bikes.

It may be worth having the bikes serviced more regularly in the summer months when use is likely to be higher and revising the maintenance schedule after a set period once a pattern of use has been established.

Where the employer provides helmets in particular, there should be a programme in place to regularly check these. The reason for this is that helmets, once subject to a hard impact can be damaged but this may not always be visible (or reported by staff).

It is also advisable to put in place a system whereby employees using scheme bicycles can report any defects that they discover along with a process to ensure that any bicycle with a defect is taken out of use with all due expediency. Cleaning of pool helmets should also be undertaken for hygiene reasons as employees will be reluctant to use them.

In addition, the employer should regularly monitor and review the use of any schemes in terms of health and safety so as to ensure any risks identified are being appropriately managed.

Further information

Transport for London:

  • Pool Bikes for Business

  • Pool Bikes for Business: A Practical Guide to Setting Up a Workplace Bike Pool