Driving is a potentially-huge business risk that often finds itself hidden in plain sight.
This can be particularly true for organisations managing company cars, rather than commercial vehicles, as fleet will rarely be seen as a core function of the business.
But this could represent a serious problem. It is estimated that more than a quarter of all road traffic incidents involve somebody who was driving for work purposes, so the consequences of failing to tackle road risk are potentially serious.
So it is important for car fleet operators to escape the traditional mentality that views cars as employee perks or, simply, a means of getting from A to B. Instead, they should be treated as mobile workplaces and, in that context, the proper precautions should be taken to limit any risks to the health and safety of staff while they are at work.
Although there is little specific regulation on the use of cars and vans for work purposes when compared to heavy goods vehicles, an employer’s duty of care underlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 extends to any vehicle driven for business purposes, including private vehicles.
This commitment is reinforced in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which require risk assessments to be conducted to identify the nature and levels of risk associated with any work activity, including driving.
Given these legal obligations, companies may need to have a driving policy in place, carry out regular risk assessments and take action to mitigate any risks, regardless of the types of vehicle being driven.
Culture key to lasting change
If an employer is really serious about tackling road safety, however, this should represent only the first step on the journey towards a more comprehensive best-practice approach.
To achieve long-lasting change, it is often important to first ensure the right organisational culture is in place, helping employees to view road safety as an integral part of the organisational DNA rather than a tick-box exercise.
Culture will inevitably be established by the traditional ‘leaders’ within the business, ideally linking into a pre-existing set of company values. Management should establish a clear set of guidelines and expectations for employees, which are included within the company’s driving policy, and then set a positive example through their own actions.
But it can be valuable to create a ‘bottom-up’ effect too, by inspiring employees to make a difference and giving them the tools to do so. This is one area where telematics can be valuable, as it can be used to provide predictive driving advice and direct feedback on performance, enabling employees to make adjustments while driving.
The reports on driving style provided by telematics systems can also be used to improve employee engagement. For example, Webfleet rates drivers based on eight key performance indicators to provide an overall performance score, and this data can be used to ‘gamify’ the push for higher safety standards. Friendly competition between individuals, teams or departments – with prizes or incentives offered for those who achieve the best driving scores – can help to ensure employees keep striving to improve performance and safety becomes a regular topic of conversation.
Regular communication with staff is also key when attempting to establish the right culture. This can take many forms but may include newsletters, workshops, training and one-to-one briefings, designed to deliver useful information at the appropriate time and ensure the wider issues stay front-of-mind.
The eye-opening impact of data
In order to really make a difference to the safety of your car fleet, data is crucial. Without access to the proper information, you’re effectively tackling the issue blind and will likely struggle to properly target the areas where change is needed.
Risk assessments are a good way to start gathering data and could take into account factors such as age, annual mileage, licence details and endorsements, and training undertaken. Insurance data can reveal common types of claims and the cost they represent to the business, while telematics can help management to quickly identify the root causes of poor performance, including speeding, heavy steering or harsh braking.
Online driver assessments can also add a further layer of data, covering areas such as hazard perception, driving regulations and observation skills. Once all of this data is collected, it can be useful to categorise every driver based on their level of risk and attempt to make improvements by working with high-risk employees or focusing on particular areas of risk across the organisation.
It is important to update this information on a regular basis in order to keep tabs on performance and track progress. For example, the continuous information provided by a telematics system makes it easier to monitor trends and identify any gains or losses. This means performance briefings and training can be focused on areas of most need, helping to ensure budget can be spent where it will deliver most value.
But it would be advisable for companies to not focus only on the driver. When determining the level of risk, the vehicle is also an important consideration, no matter whether it is owned by the company or the employee.
A best practice approach might include vehicle safety checks at the start of each working day to help make sure every vehicle being used for company business is roadworthy and in good condition. Insurance and MOT documents for non-company cars should also be checked at point of renewal, rather than a fixed annual date.
Making the business case
Tackling safety should not be viewed as an outright cost.
Although there will be an initial investment of time and money as efforts are taken to understand the situation and implement new systems, substantial returns are possible.
When it comes to the accidents, there is a misconception that all the costs will be recovered through insurance, but uninsured losses may be considerable.
These costs can include lost time, sick pay, repairs to vehicles, damage to products or essential materials and legal costs among others.
However, the returns available from a best-practice approach to road safety don’t only come from avoiding the costs related to accidents. By encouraging a safer, more efficient driving style, it is possible to make substantial savings on fuel, insurance and maintenance that can really have an impact on the bottom line.
For example, Sanctuary Maintenance cut costs by 25 per cent within just two months through a programme designed to improve driver behaviour, underpinned by telematics. Meanwhile, Fife Council saved nearly £190,000 on fuel alone by tackling driver safety.
The business case is clear, making it increasingly important for businesses to shed the old perceptions of cars used at work and make a concerted effort to transform the performance of their fleets.