All UK companies have a legal obligation to ensure their employees don’t suffer any unreasonable or preventable harm or loss in the workplace. This is known as duty of care.
Employers can be found liable is an employee or a member of the public is harmed or incurs loss as a result of negligence. Therefore, it is vital that all fleet operators carry out the relevant safety checks on owned vehicle to make sure that they’re safe to use.
It’s important to note that if a vehicle is owned by a company, it is considered a place of work, so healthy and safety rules apply just as they would within an office, warehouse or any other workplace. According to the department of transport, over a quarter of road traffic accidents may involve someone who is driving as part of their work obligations.
When it comes to road safety, much of the legal responsibility is on the driver. That’s why it is up to you to ensure your vehicle is safe, well maintained, insured and that it is being driven in a safe manner. An employee caught driving recklessly is responsible for any offence that comes as result.
However, employers also shoulder some of the responsibility for their employees’ actions. For example, employers are liable for the death or injury of an employee or injury of an employee caused by another employee through negligence.
Additionally, both parties may be found liable if a driver is caught speeding as a result of impractical employer scheduling.
What this means for fleets
For fleet operators, it’s important to acknowledge that company owned vehicles are considered the workplace, and that you have an obligation to ensure those vehicles are correctly insured and are safe to drive. It’s also important that you set up ‘safe systems of work’ procedures to assess and minimise the work-related risks and hazards your drivers could face.
As a fleet manager, there are three areas of risk management you should focus on in order to comply with duty of care:
All company-owned vehicles should be suitable for the job at hand and should meet the driver’s needs. Security is also a priority, not just for the driver, but for all road users. Regular maintenance checks and inspections are essential for maintaining the highest possible standards.
Before employing a new driver, ensure they are properly vetted and that appropriate checks are done on their licence. Make sure that they’re given a thorough induction to the fleet procedures and policies, especially for accident reporting.
Setting realistic journey targets for your drivers is an important part of safeguarding their welfare. Properly planning their journey reduces the likelihood of speeding or driver fatigue, while also improving the moral of your employees and reducing the risk of work-related ill health.
Tackling your duty of care obligations
There are a number of ways that a company can tackle professional duty of care when it comes to their drivers; from carrying out continuing education through risk assessments and in-vehicle driver training, to classroom based training courses, e-training and documentation.
While drivers should perform daily checks on their vehicles before each journey, companies should also carry out safety checks on vehicles themselves. This is to ensure that they are serviced and maintained regularly.
Every aspect of this process should be recorded in internal management systems and procedures to ensure that, in the event of an incident or accident, there is a clearly defined and identifiable audit trail available.
Duty of care and grey fleet management
Many companies still allow employees, especially those that do not qualify for a company car, to use their own vehicle on company business and reclaim a mileage allowance.
Such vehicles are typically referred to as ‘grey fleet’ vehicles, this is because although they are not company owned, the company does have a professional duty of care towards them and could still be liable for any accidents or incidents in which the drivers of grey fleet vehicles are involved.
Research has shown that grey fleet vehicles are usually older than company-owned vehicles. In addition, they might not have been serviced as regularly and the condition of the tyres may be in generally poorer condition. Moreover, drivers in many instances might only have social, domestic and pleasure insurance, rather than the necessary cover for business use.
But, if anything happens while such a car is in use on company business, it is the company, as well as the employee driving the vehicle, who can be held liable.
It is certainly in the company’s best interest to ensure its employees only use grey fleet vehicles that are fit for purpose and are regularly serviced, as there is a whole raft of legislation under which a company could be found to be negligible.