While the primary challenges for HR in relation to company cars have been about accounting, tax and benefits, these will soon pale into insignificance compared with the issue of health and safety.
Driving at work – Managing Work-related Road Safety is a set of guidelines published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in September 2003, which address the risk management of staff who drive. According to David Faithful, a lawyer with Amery Parkes, the document opens a ‘Pandora’s Box’ in terms of employer’s responsibility.
“This document is something very similar to the Highway Code,” he says. “The HSE calls them ‘guidelines’, but I’d call them a benchmark, and I think that’s how the courts will treat them.”
This the first time guidelines have been issued to do with the road safety of company drivers, and not only do they raise more issues than they solve, but in places, they also appear to run contrary to existing areas of employment legislation. For example, the HSE draws attention to the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety of journeys to and from the workplace. However, such trips are not counted under the Working Time Directive; nor are they eligible for allowable business expenses under Inland Revenue rules.
Under the heading ‘Evaluating the Risks’, the guidelines set out a series of challenges for employers: Are your drivers competent, do they perform basic vehicle safety checks before embarking on their journey, and are all vehicles maintained and serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s standards?
Faithful suggests a ‘tick box’ form to ensure safety checks are carried out before each trip, but then how can employers verify the checks have been carried out correctly? “Do you train your employees to carry out the checks, and then assess their competency to do those checks?” he asks. “The problem with many drivers is that as long as the car drives away, they’re happy.”
The worry is that in the event of an accident, these guidelines could be used to identify both company and individual responsibility for the performance of company-car drivers. If organisations cannot demonstrate a policy which addresses the issues noted by the HSE, then responsibility may not rest with the driver alone, but with the entire organisation.
Moreover, the expected introduction of corporate killing legislation alongside the existing offence of corporate manslaughter, means that in future, both the company and the individuals working for it could face prosecution over car accidents.
“These health and safety rules apply not only to company cars, but also to private cars which may be used for company business,” notes Steve Pinchen, of fleet provider Hitachi Capital. Getting a watertight policy therefore requires a co-ordinated approach on all aspects of fleet management – from the organisation supplying and maintaining the vehicles to those who drive.
Created in 2000, the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) – a government-funded body that reports on the quality of learning provision received by adults in England – runs 120 lease cars and gives cash allowances for the use of individuals’ cars. Its policy is jointly operated by HR and facilities management, and covers some 160 drivers.
HR manages vehicle allocation and administration, while Graham Hine, the ALI’s facilities manager, is primarily responsible for health and safety. However, HR still has a role to play here: “If I think a driver needs training and their line manager agrees with me, those recommendations will involve HR,” says Hine. “HR has to be closely involved because there maybe disciplinary issues to do with managing our drivers.”
If a driver refuses to produce their driving licence, for example, or requires training or even redeployment as a result of their driving skills, HR must be involved.
Under the ALI’s policy, all cars (both fleet vehicles and employee-owned) must score at least three stars on the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) safety standard. Whenever an inspection team travels to make an inspection, it is up to the leading inspector to assess the required journey for each employee attending, and to make appropriate arrangements. If a worker’s journey home is considered too far, an overnight stay may be arranged. Alternatively, transport by train or plane will be funded, rather than expecting the inspector to put in the driving time.
Full-time inspectors are not permitted to travel to work in vehicles driven by associate inspectors (the associates are self-employed so the ALI cannot have any influence on the safety rating of their vehicles). And inspectors may cannot be driven by people from other organisations.
Defensive driving training is given to all staff and follow-up training is provided if any significant issues emerge. Management statistics produced by Graham Hine and fleet provider Hitachi Capital are studied regularly for organisation-wide trends.
“Our inspectors do an average of 20-25,000 miles every year,” says Hine. “In that context, you realise how important this issue is.”