A group of experts discuss road safety in the first of a two-part article. Chaired by Iris Cepero
In 2014 it was reported a 4% increase in the number of those killed or seriously injured on British roads and an alarming 16% in Scotland. What are the reasons for this increase and what can be done to reduce it?
Will: There are several things that affect road safety, for example the state of the economy, as the economy has grown, and this will almost certainly have had an effect on exposure levels for individuals and organisations. The reduction in the price of fuel. There is quite a bit of research available suggesting that when the price of fuel goes up and down that has an impact on road safety. As the price of fuel has gone down, I think people tend to drive a bit more, a bit faster. They’re not quite so concerned about road safety and about saving fuel. There are some other things as well. We don’t want to criticise newspapers such as the Daily Mail, but there’s a bit of a campaign against ‘health and safety’. Also we think there are some things around government policy. Clearly the government hasn’t set any targets for road safety and investment in road safety, particularly through areas such as council road safety officers have been significantly cut because of austerity measures. Those four things, the economy, fuel price, attitudes towards health and safety, as well as reductions in funding have definitely helped drive the trend in road safety stats.
Another area is in relation to procurement, which is becoming much more hard nosed, which sometimes means that investment in road safety isn’t quite as strong as it could be.
Malcolm: In addition we’ve seen a reduction in policing on the roads over the last few years. The increase also goes hand in hand with changes in technology such as mobile phones and the other distractions within cabs. We need to think how we legislate and deal with it. If there’s is no threat of enforcement why comply? I agree with Will, it’s the exposure; we’re doing more miles.
Will: Malcolm, your point about the enforcement is a good one. I don’t know if you see it in your licence checks. Maybe it’s do with policy and people are getting safer but we don’t see quite as many endorsements coming through in the results of DVLA checks we run for clients as we might have done a year or two ago. Perhaps people are driving more carefully, but I suspect there’s probably a bit less enforcement out there.
Malcolm: Yes, definitely.
Will: Either that or the programmes we’re running are having a big effect.
Malcolm: There is good enforcement in areas such as average speed cameras: everyone knows that if you travel too fast it implies you will receive a fine. There are lots of aids to assist prevention that people understand. But the use of mobile phones has just become something of an epidemic
We appear to have seen changes in sentencing in the last two months. In Scotland a woman who killed a cyclist after using her mobile phone while driving has been jailed for five years and St Albans Crown Court just sentenced a driver who killed a cyclist while using his phone to 21 months in jail. Both cases appear to provide a massive shift change in how we’re dealing with drivers who’ve killed people. As soon as a mobile phone is involved then it appears that we’re now going straight for custodial sentences, which, to me, has not been highlighted before as much as it has in the last couple of months.
Will: At the other extreme, we’ve got an organisation that put in place a mobile phone ban in September 2013. Before that they had hundreds and hundreds of CU80 mobile phone endorsements on their licence checks. Since the beginning of the ban, they’ve only had three. It does show the importance of the process and policy and having the right procedures in place. We agree with Malcolm about the importance of some strong enforcement examples, but also think that good practice case studies and exemplars are important for others to benchmark against and learn from.
Malcolm: There is also the case of a bin lorry that killed six people in Glasgow. A BBC news article reported that the inquiry into the crash has heard of “significant shortcomings” in the council recruitment processes. The driver’s licence was fine but it had been revoked a couple of times and the driver had a history of fainting and dizziness going back 40 years, but no one had at any time asked him about his health.
Will: We do think there’s an opportunity for organisations to do much more with regards to ensuring they have robust recruitment processes in places; checking carefully areas such as health, relevant experience and a good attitude. Employers need to make sure they’ve got the appropriate checks in place.
Malcolm: I know we will discuss it later on, but we have the Driving at work guidance INDG382 published by the Health and Safety Executive, which was updated last year. It is a fantastic document and it should be with every single business, but for some reason the majority of businesses I speak to have not heard of it. I find that alarming because it’s an easy read, very simple, very logical and if you don’t know what you’re meant to be doing you now have guidance.
Will: We agree, but I would also say INDG382 is the most widely recognised document for work-related road safety in the UK. There’s been quite a bit of survey work done as to where people get their ideas about work-related road safety and INDG382 is the key document. It is a really fundamental document and we could do much more to promote it and encourage people to use it.
Malcolm: You need to get the fundamentals clear and when people actually realise what is fundamental and act upon it you will see improvements. Generally drivers wear seat belts because over the years education has worked. When you compare the number of accidents related to drinking, it appears to be reasonably static and, because of education, we don’t seem to have had a massive increase over the last few years with drink and drive.
A good example of how to look at your workforce is illustrated by one of our clients, a plumbing company. They work on the basis that every one of their people is a driver and when they get to their location they do plumbing, they are not perceived as plumbers who happen to drive to a location. They realise that if they haven’t got a driving licence they can’t do the job in the first place.
Simon: One of the reasons I’ve heard was down to snow. 2012 and 2013 saw big snowfalls in the spring which often means many people will stay at home, and those that do venture out will be more careful. In 2014 there wasn’t much snow at all in England and so there were many more people doing many more miles than in spring the previous two years.
A 2014 report by Road Safety Analysis and AXA found that van drivers are more likely to be involved in collisions due to tiredness and tailgating rather than speeding. Isn’t it more related to an employer’s poor management of time and resources than driver irresponsibility?
Simon: I think that tiredness and fatigue is often down to poor management by employers, especially where van drivers are expected to make a long journey to and from a job some distance away. Employers need to beware of the total hours worked including travelling. However I believe tailgating is unrelated and is very much down to a lack of awareness on the driver’s part about how much time and distance they need to stop. I’m sure if they thought about it they’d realise they were too close to the vehicle in front, but a mix of rushing to get there, a sense of invincibility and a lack of awareness of the consequences mean they often don’t think about it at all.
Malcolm: I believe there’s a lack of understanding. A lot of people who run businesses do not see it as a main health and safety issue and they don’t realise what responsibilities they have. Whether or not it’s related to employees’ poor management of timing and resources is a matter for debate.
I honestly believe that most employers don’t take it into consideration; it’s not intentional, it is simply not on their radar and therefore getting the job done becomes their total consideration, not the possible outcomes.
We had a massive increase in vans in the UK due to the differences in licensing. When I took my test I could drive up to 7.5 tons. You can’t do that anymore. In addition the way we move goods and the way that we now shop on the internet and our expectation of home delivery and instant receipt causes huge pressure.
Does it surprise me that we have lots accidents? Does it surprise me that we have people over-tired? No. Whether the responsibility is partially on the driver, partially on the employer, I think it’s on all of them. I just think they – employers and driver – don’t have the tools or the knowledge to actually understand their responsibilities in the first place and it’s like most things: inexperience.
Will: We agree and would go further. There is definitely a move towards vans because of home shopping and because vans are unregulated compared to trucks. You do not need a specific licence and driver CPC and nor are the drivers hours so stick. I also think there is a bit of a thing around the structure of the industry where there’s been a move towards deregulation, contracting and sub-contracting – including more owner drivers.
We’re living in the time of almost instant online shopping, where you’ve got a van driver coming to your house every other day with deliveries and many of the drivers do not actually work for the delivery company. They all work for second, third, fourth tier suppliers often coming in battered up old vans, probably working for really, really minimal wages, often on zero-hour contracts and do not have many employment rights.
This is a bit of an over exaggeration to make a point, but there are some industry and organisational structure trends which mean that such deliveries can often fall outside of the really good policies and procedures that the actual main contactor may have. So, to finish that off, for risk factors like tailgating and fatigue the person driving the vehicle has to take responsibility, but some of it is organisational, some of it is the structure of the industry, some of it is related to coming out the recession and some of it is has to do with deregulation. Our research and experience show that the culture, leadership and general management in organisations makes a clear difference to how drivers behave.
Policy, process, procedures and leadership are all really important. At the same time there’s an opportunity there for us to be a bit more caring as a society about the way we treat people who spend their time working on the roads.
The strategic review of the management of occupational road risk report in 2014 says that work-related road safety is not ‘mainstream’ as the management of general health and safety is. Do you agree?
Malcolm: If you talk to people who have been health and safety practitioners for a number of years, work-related road safety was not even been part of their training. I am pleased to say it is now high on their agenda. Although new practitioners coming through those systems have the education, we do have a gap in learning.
We’ve come on leaps and bounds. If you look at people working at height, hardhats, high vis jackets, people signing in and out of sites and compliance we have done quite well. We have, however, not appreciated the risks involved with driving – what about those who have died because the driver has fallen asleep after completing night duty and are simply driving home or back to base with their other passengers, who will have taken the opportunity to fall to sleep? We need to fully appreciate the risks. It needs to be to the fore because on the road is where deaths at work are occurring.
Will: Malcolm’s just stolen the first line of my notes!. If you think back, the vehicle has only really been acknowledged as part of the workplace since 2003 when the HSE guidance first came out, so actually it’s relatively new that this is seen as a health and safety issue. I agree with Malcolm that there could be much more in the professional development courses and the qualifications of people in the health and safety sector and this should become more mainstream for them.
We know and deal with more and more health and safety leaders than we have done before. In the past we’d deal with the fleet manager or the transport manager or maybe sometimes the HR manager but increasingly we discuss our programmes with the health and safety managers, and this is because they play a bigger and bigger role in the company’s success.
Our experience is that work-related road safety is becoming more mainstream. One barrier, however, is that, shortly after INDG382 came out in 2003 there was a change of government minister responsible for the then Health and Safety Commission, who was not so keen on the HSE being as involved in this area as they might be. Another barrier is that when the HSE began to quantify the numbers of people killed or injured on the road driving for work, they realised they just didn’t have the resources to be able to deal with and investigate that number of events.
Despite these barriers, we definitely see road safety becoming more closely linked to health and safety. But there are some areas of opportunity to go further. As an example, although INDG382 is a good document, and a minimum benchmark, it is still only a ‘guidance’ and it doesn’t always get the priority that it could have.
Simon: Often road risk management doesn’t sit with one person in a business – it can be spread between fleet, HR, safety, finance, office manager, etc. with the result that nobody fully understands the whole picture. There is also so much avoidable vehicle damage that doesn’t result in injury, but does result in huge avoidable costs, that employers should be looking hard at this issue from a simple case of sound business practice, not just the safety angle.
There is a recommendation for HSE to changes its policy so that employers have to make a RIDDOR report when someone has been injured while driving for work. Is that reasonable or doable?
Malcolm: I can’t believe it’s not there. Full stop. It’s beyond me. You’re driving a vehicle at work. The vehicle then becomes a ‘work vehicle’. It’s only then that organisations will highlight, if nothing else, the savings that they can make by putting in proper policies. Then they will have a full understanding of how many people have been injured on the roads while at work.
Will: We definitely think WRRS events should be RIDDOR reportable but at the same time we understand the reservations of HSE. We think there’s a resource issue and although RIDDOR is a good system it has some flaws. We agree whole-heartedly with Malcolm that they should be included but at the same time we do understand why they’re not.
We would also say that there’s another opportunity with data that we haven’t talked about. We think much more should be done with the Police Stats19 road collision data. Since January 2005, when the police attend the scene of a road collision one of the questions that they’re supposed to fill in in their Stats19 form is “purpose of journey of the vehicles at the time of the collision”.
Sometimes it is not easy for the police and maybe it’s not their priority but even after 10 years of that field being in the data, 70% of injury and fatality collisions, they still have either “don’t know” or “other” as a response to that question.
If we had better purpose of journey statistics in the road safety data, that would help us as well as the RIDDOR data and it would also get over one of the hurdles with RIDDOR which is that the health and safety world see the road as being the domain of the police.
One way to improve the police data would be better training so the police who actually collect the information at the scene understand its importance.
Simon: I don’t know if it’s reasonable or doable but it would certainly help focus employers’ attention.
Do you think we need more substantial fines for large fleets with insufficient management of WRRS?
Malcolm: You’ve already got enough legislation there for big organisations to be fined. Whether you’ve got the political appetite or the CPS is willing to follow up on such things is a different matter. We’ve got unlimited fines in health and safety cases – you’ve got unlimited fines for corporate manslaughter and a myriad of other offences.
What you need to have is a willingness from the courts or the prosecutors to use those laws. As we said earlier, two drivers being immediately sentenced to terms of imprisonment during the past months sent out a massive message.
Some companies ask us about mobile phone usage and we just say: “You don’t use them. That should be your company policy and it should be the policy of everyone in your business calling out as well. If you ring someone and you believe they are driving and they are, then you call them later. Full stop”.
Will: If the organisation, a manager or driver is completely negligent then stick may be necessary, but I do think as well there’s a really strong business case for road safety – for a range of financial, CSR, societal, business, and brand reputation.
Malcolm: I agree but I do not see that more substantial fines will resolve the issue. Taking our business as an example, if a company wants licence checking, the only way you can be part of the Association for Driving Licence Verification is having ISO 27001. Now, every licence checking business has ISO 27001 because it becomes ‘the requirement. All government contracts should be the same as Crossrail where there is a road safety and vehicle safety requirement. Things like that are better than any regulation because the regulations are there but without showing compliance you will not get the business.
Simon: I think this would be a very welcome idea although I obviously have a vested interest in that. Small and medium sized employers are especially prone to putting it off or ignoring it altogether because they know they won’t be checked. I think the law should be amended to specifically state a minimum level of road risk management such as a safe driving policy, driver communication, licence monitoring and grey fleet checks.
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