Are You Protected Against A Duty of Care Prosecution?

No one wants to see a member of their staff get injured at work or, even worse, lose their life. We know up-to-date policies and procedures can help to prevent such things from happening. But sometimes the other pressures of work get in the way and things get overlooked. At other times, you might simply not be aware of whether the responsibility lies with you or your employees. If people in your company use vehicles for work, then you have a legal responsibility to ensure their safety. Meeting your Duty of Care does not need to be a  burden. Not only does it keep your staff safe, but it just requires process to be in place that monitor’s aspects of your mobile workforce, giving you the data you need so you can foresee any issues. This is not as hard as it sounds with modern fleet management and telematics systems, and you might also be surprised by the bottom line benefits it could bring to your business.

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The law is clear on the subject. You have a Duty of Care towards your employees, when they are at work. This means ensuring you are doing your best to minimise the risks they face in their day-to-day working lives, including making sure everyone is aware of company policy and that you are doing your best to enforce these policies. A range of common and statute laws cover this responsibility, including landmark legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. If it ever came to prosecution, ignorance of your legal duties would not be a valid defence.

How This Applies To Fleets

You might be wondering how this applies to fleets and other company vehicles. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007, which came into force in April 2008, made it clear that vehicles count as a place of work. You might also be wondering about possible repercussions of this Act – one (in)famous case will give you a glimpse of the consequences.

One haulage company has already been prosecuted under the act. In June of this year, the two partners in charge of AJ Haulage received a combined sentence of 6.5 years in prison for manslaughter, after one of their drivers died after falling asleep at the wheel and crashing into stationary traffic in 2010. The firm was found to have turned a blind eye to drivers exceeding their maximum legal working hours.

This Act applies to every vehicle, from HGVs right down to someone using their personal car for work purposes. We spoke to some fleet management experts to get the inside view on the issue.

Your Responsibility

“The law is really clear,” said Giles Margerison, UK Sales Director, Webfleet. “If someone is driving for business purposes, regardless of who provides the vehicle – whether it’s their own vehicle, hire, rented, leased, bought, or bought by the company. Once you have given someone an instruction for work, whether it’s just popping down the shops for a pint of milk or to an appointment or a job or a site, you are responsible for their safety and their behaviour.”

In such a competitive industry, the problem sometimes arises from companies attempting to cut costs. Richard Fry, Chairman of the Road Haulage Association, believes that this is a problem that is increasing, meaning that the act will need to be enforced more rigorously if unsafe practices are going to be prevented.

“If Joe Bloggs says if you do it at £300, I’ll do it at £290, he’s got to be able to prove that he can do that at £290 safely,” he told Fresh Fleet Thinking. “And the company who are employing him should be questioned, ‘Why are you using that company when they’re so cheap, when we know what the price is because everyone pays the same for diesel, trucks, etc?’”

This is a very short term view of reducing costs, by the companies involved. Investing in safe driving practices can provide benefits in a number of ways. Using telematics systems to improve driver behaviour, reducing incidences of speeding and harsh breaking, for example, can cut fuel use across an organisation. But more than that, safer driving means lower insurance premiums. Zenith Hygiene, working withWebfleet, reduced its insurance premiums by £78,000 over two years, by focusing on improved driver performance. To find out more about how improved driver behaviour can help you save money, take a look at our post on reducing your insurance premiums.

“The use of technology really helps because we can manage driver behaviour,” said Giles Margerison. “Other methods can be used, of course, but technology makes that really very simple, and gives you the right data when you need it.”

Meeting your Duty of Care responsibilities can help the business in a number of ways, from protection against prosecution, keeping your staff safe and the added benefit of these changes often means reducing you bottom line costs. It’s not complicated either: modern technology can reduce the work involved and there are now plenty of guides available online from organisations like RoSPA, showing you how to put together and enforce a robust health and safety policy. To get started, why not read our guide to keeping your workforce safe on the road?

We recently conducted some research into the UK Van and Car fleet markets regarding safety and risk:
See the full report for van fleets here.
See the full report for car fleets here.

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