Driving home the duty of care obligations for UK businesses
By Neil Everatt, Chief Executive Officer
18 June 2018
Employers across the country all have a legal duty of care to protect their employees from the risk of foreseeable injury, this includes making work-related journeys. As the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) estimates there are 14 million grey fleet vehicles on UK roads, it’s important for employers to ensure that any work-related journeys are done in a safe and legal manner – this means anyone driving on company business, regardless of who owns the vehicle.
However, it’s no secret that the number of road fatalities in Britain reached a five-year high in 2016 and as the UK’s roads become busier, this could only intensify the issue. The Department for Transport’s annual report suggests that the main reason the UK has seen an increase in accidents and causalities lies with the growth of the economy, as it grows so do traffic volumes and this ultimately results in more accidents. With 11.8 million private sector and 2.2 million public sector grey fleet vehicles gearing up for journeys up and down the country each year, how can businesses ensure they carry out their duty of care and safeguard the health and safety of employees?
It’s a common misconception that drivers themselves are solely responsible for maintaining their vehicles and making sure correct tax and insurance are in place. In fact, this responsibility falls down to the employer. Recently road charity Brake urged the UK government to look more closely at providing and ensuring up-to-date driver information is readily available. Specifically, pointing to a ‘loophole’ where employers are not automatically told when employees lose their licence. As this information is not yet directly provided by The Department of Transport, duty of care is still with employers to check their employees’ licences regularly and the DVLA advises this should be done every three months.
This means regardless of whether a business has five or 5,000 employees, it’s the responsibility of the employer to gather and review documentation on all drivers making work-related journeys. As well as checking driving licences and driving endorsements, it’s also important to inquire whether personal vehicles are taxed and roadworthy by reviewing MOT certificates. Additionally, for grey fleet drivers it’s essential to check insurance documentation to make sure employees are covered to make work-related car journeys. Ultimately, the reason for the journey is irrelevant, as at the very minimum employees should have Class 1 business insurance to cover their travelling during working hours.
Understanding the risks
Violation of this duty can leave businesses at risk of criminal prosecution, substantial fines and serious reputational damage. However, there are implications for the employee too, which include a roadside fine of £300 and six penalty points. If the case goes to court then there is an unlimited fine, driving disqualification and the vehicle could be seized and destroyed. The repercussions really put the onus on businesses to ensure that the correct policies are in place and properly followed. It’s quite common to find that there isn’t a person responsible for a company’s duty of care and that has to change. The law won’t favour one employee over another for failings like this and line managers, HR or finance professionals– even company directors – are all in line to foot the blame for the unsafe driving of their employees.
Going the extra mile
As previously mentioned the DVLA recommends checking employees’ licences every three months and does provide a manual lookup service to check which vehicles a driver is eligible to drive and identifies penalty points or disqualifications. Although, it can be an administrative burden to collect and collate all driver, vehicle, and insurance information, store it and update it annually.
However, the DVLA does allow third party organisations to source data from them to check driver details. So, it’s worth looking at technology providers who can offer this option and save the administrative burden. There are plenty of cloud-based solutions that would allow saving of miscellaneous documentation, and others that have dedicated duty of care functionalities. For instance, some expenses management systems have mechanisms in place which restrict mileage claims until the correct documentation is provided This removes the headache of sorting through and filing paper documentation, instead it can be scanned, copied and saved onto the finance or HR system.
As well as having the right technology in place, businesses need to actively encourage road safety and make sure that policies are communicated to all employees. It’s not enough to have these policies in place, but still allow employees to take calls on the road without the correct in-car hands free technology or speed to meet tight schedules. With the UK’s roads now busier than ever, it’s increasingly important that before employees make any work-related journeys, businesses emphasised the importance of road safety and carry out the necessary checks on driving licences and grey fleet vehicles.