Good driving for good money

Road safety remains an issue many businesses are struggling to tackle. What are the challenges and how can data hold the key to improvement?

Vehicles are too often overlooked as a significant source of risk within organisations.

Driving is one of the most dangerous activities most workers will do as part of their job but, perhaps because driving is so ingrained in everyday life, the issues are sometimes hidden in plain sight.

This situation was highlighted in a study we conducted in June this year among 400 senior managers at UK firms.

More than one fifth (21 per cent) of companies that employ staff who drive for work purposes apparently do not have a written road safety policy in place. Only 38 per cent check driver documentation more than once every six months, while 24 per cent do not conduct regular safety checks to ensure vehicles are roadworthy.

All of these elements should be viewed as fundamental safety measures for any organisation that requires its employees to spend time out on the roads. This stands true regardless of the type of vehicles used, the business activities they are used for and the mileage they cover.

There is sometimes a perception that ‘grey fleet’ vehicles – employee-owned vehicles driven for work purposes – are not covered by the same regulations or that responsibility lies with the individual. However, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires every employer to carry out an assessment of the risks to the health and safety of all employees while they are at work, including any driving activity.

Photograph: iStock Martin Dimitrov

Setting the tone

It is possible that confusion arises because there is no specific regulation applying to cars and vans in the way there is to trucks and Heavy Goods Vehicles.

But this is perhaps why organisations should think in best practice terms in order to make comprehensive provision for the safety of their staff. There has been a noticeable shift to this way of thinking in recent years as more companies attempt to take action to improve general road safety and establish themselves as responsible employers.

It starts with establishment of the appropriate culture. Driving should be positioned as a potentially risky activity that demands care and respect, rather than a straightforward, everyday task.

This is easier for organisations where driving is a core business function – for example, couriers or taxi firms – but can be slightly more problematic when this is not the case. Where driving is viewed as a simple case of getting from A to B, the organisational focus tends to be keeping vehicles on the road rather than keeping them on the road in the safest, most efficient way possible.

It is important to establish expected standards for vehicles and driver performance, and to ensure these are communicated effectively and regularly to employees.

These expectations can be enshrined by a comprehensive ‘driving at work’ policy, supported by a driver handbook providing advice on everything from driving in adverse weather to dealing with fatigue. This can be reinforced by regular communications and workshops around key issues, as well as driver training. Our research found only 57 per cent of organisations provide regular training and only 61 per cent of those do so more than once every six months.

Data key to a smart safety strategy

But a comprehensive approach to risk management must also be built on solid intelligence and this is why organisations should make use of the wealth of fleet data at their disposal.

This data can range from the number of penalty points accrued by drivers, obtained via electronic licence checks, to detailed information on driver behaviour provided by technology such as telematics.

All of this can help in the creation of accurate risk profiles – both for an entire fleet and individual drivers – as well as in the identification of problematic trends and the root causes for these trends. Telematics, for example, can score each driver based on key performance factors including speeding, harsh steering or braking and gear shifting.

This data can be used to establish performance benchmarks, set targets and track improvements over time. Where issues are identified, drivers can be provided with support and targeted training to help them improve, while driver league tables may be used as the basis for healthy competition designed to boost performance standards.

Data can also be drawn from the vehicle itself, including diagnostic data that can provide vital warnings for developing mechanical issues. By using this data to help build a picture of ongoing vehicle health, companies can adopt a more proactive approach to maintenance where vehicles are called in for inspection when red flags appear rather than waiting for serious issues to develop.

Business can also stand to achieve strong return on investment from any efforts to improve safety by addressing the performance of drivers and vehicles. When it comes to driving, safety goes hand in hand with efficiency so a safer driving style can help to contribute to lower fuel consumption, meaning less spend on fuel.

This ‘hidden’ area of risk is one that leaders in health, safety and risk should sit up and take notice of.

More info on driving at work: hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf

Beverley Wise is director UK & Ireland, TomTom Telematics