IF your SME company runs a small fleet, employs drivers and enjoys living in fear, then this article on taking risks with your corporate responsibilities is bang on the money.
Getting caught out through non-compliance of current legislation aimed at companies and employed drivers (Corporate Manslaughter Act, Duty of Care and Health & Safety) could mean massive fines and a huge loss of industry reputation.
…if your business employs drivers, or has employees who regularly drive as part of their job then you have serious corporate responsibilities
You’ll also face publicity and remedial orders for ignoring your corporate responsibilities.
Any fatality road traffic crash is now investigated as an ‘unlawful killing’.
The Police and the HSE will come down on your company very heavily if you are unable to provide a robust audit trail for any driver found responsible for the accident.
Have your drivers been assessed or received any training? Have you shown a duty of care towards them and ensured there hasn’t been negligence on the company’s part?
What does the law say?
There are two key laws at work here (although others also affect duty of care).
- Our old friend The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 says that employers have a duty of care to those that they employ and to those that might be affected by those business activities – such as driving.
- The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 targets serious management failures that result in a death – which could be at the wheel of a company car or van.
There haven’t yet been many court rulings where a company has shown gross negligence to ‘at work’ fleet drivers, but there are around 50 cases waiting in the wings ready to go to court.
And there are many civil cases being brought through third parties or family members of accident victims, looking for compensation for the loss of loved ones due to gross corporate negligence.
What does it mean in everyday terms?
You need to make sure your business has a Driving For Work policy, then conduct a risk assessment and set in place controls to minimise risk.
If you employ more than five people you’ll need to record these findings, too. Then you need to keep on monitoring these policies (an audit trail) to ensure all risks are being minimised.
What are the consequences of failing to comply?
Compliance is the only way you will be found not guilty in any court action against you and your company. If you face a Corporate Manslaughter court appearance, you will be there for ‘opting out’ of your legal responsibilities.
The organisation can be prosecuted with serious fines; individual directors can be held culpable under health and safety law, and your organization will face loss of industry reputation and remedial orders for ignoring your corporate responsibilities.
Fines can range from £500,000 upwards for corporate manslaughter offences; from £100,000 for health and safety breaches resulting in a fatality.
Of course the chances are it won’t happen, but as Clint Eastwood said in the movie “do you feel lucky … well do you”?
The action you should take
Counting on luck shouldn’t enter the ‘company’s directive minds’ – the people who run the business and make the decisions.
Nor should it feature for the poor company car manager who lacks the authority or the finance to make sure that drivers and vehicles all meet the requirements of the law.
- Conduct a risk assessment of your fleet, as well as those drivers that drive for you but use their own cars (the so-called ‘grey fleet’).
- Check that each driver has a valid driver’s licence, is insured for business use, and that cars are roadworthy – that includes employees’ own cars.
- Ensure that drivers can reach their destinations within a reasonable time, and that they take sufficient breaks – normally a break after 2 hours on the road.
- Put in place a Driving for Work policy.
Get your corporate responsibility head out of the sand and put your real world hat on, as a wakeup call could be just around the corner!
If one of your employees is involved in a fatal accident while driving at work, you won’t be able to stand up in front of the judge and tell him that “I never knew about the laws or my responsibilities” or worse still, “The business couldn’t afford it”.
Remember that your company cannot ‘opt out’ of these company car policy responsibilities. Think of it like VAT or income tax – it has to be done!
Fortunately there are evidence based low cost online company car driver assessments and e-learning modules available quite cheaply. Every business that employs drivers can now afford to be within the law, create a robust safety audit trail, keep records, and ensure compliance and mitigation … it’s easier than you think!
For SME businesses that need more information, we suggest you look at this useful pdf booklet called Driving at Work – managing work-related road safety
Paul Ripley is the managing director of Driver Risk Dynamics.
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