Driving – the Most Dangerous Work Activity

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

Driving - the Most Dangerous Work Activity

There were 144 workplace fatalities in the UK in 2017/18. This number has been relatively static over the past 5 years. Additionally, around 500 people are killed every year while ‘driving for work reasons’. This excludes people commuting to and from work (more of that later).

The UK and Ireland are the only two EU countries who do not report on ‘driving for work reasons’ fatalities as part of their annual statistics but the Department of Transport states that more than one in four UK road accidents may involve someone ‘driving for work reasons’.

Further, health and safety law applies to all work related driving (but not commuting) so employers, employees and the self-employed all have a duty of responsibility to assess and manage the associated risks to themselves and other road users. Note that this extends to people driving to internal meetings in their own car and sales people driving to prospects/clients as much as it does to delivery and long-haul drivers.

Case law has long been established in this area (Regina vs Graves and Coates) where both the company owner and lorry driver were jailed for four years after another road user was killed by the lorry driver who had been working continuously for over 20 hours. The HSE have a useful leaflet that outlines the law with recommendations for how to assess and manage the risks associated with work-related driving.

With almost 4x the number of workplace fatalities, ‘driving for work reasons’ is clearly a major issue in the UK. What specific activities are you taking in your business to assess and manage the risks? Do these extend to people driving to meetings and sales people driving to clients?

We briefly covered a success story from Jacobs in our post Health and Safety Success – What Does it Take? last summer. You can read a much more detailed study of Jacob’s deployment of a Driver Safety Management System here.

Driving for work reasons is not the only driving-related challenge the UK faces. Driving to work, and commuting more broadly, is a terrible blight on the UK, not only in terms of the congestion on our roads and trains, but also on the damage that then causes to our economy from loss of productivity – not to mention the associated health and wellness issues and costs. A 2014 study from INRIX forecast the annual cost of congestion to be £21Bn by 2030 with an aggregate cost of £300Bn in the sixteen years to 2030.

So why, in the 21st century with the plethora of communication and sharing technologies available to us, are so many people needlessly forced into cubicle-city to perform a task they could just as easily do from home?

What does that say about the modern worker that they can’t be trusted to do their work without constant oversight? Actually, nothing. That’s not the issue. The issue is with our leaders and management and their inability to step out of their comfort zone and trust their teammates. So says Liz Ryan in Forbes Magazine, “Leaders who cannot trust themselves enough to hire people they can trust will always revert to power and control mechanisms, including forcing people to drive a car or take a train to work every day so that their supervisors can keep an eye on them.”

It’s easy to agree with Liz’s viewpoint. With our shifting demographic (millennials seeking work with purpose, for example), business, industry and the country as a whole needs a massive culture change to adapt in a way that truly addresses these major challenges.

The third ‘driving’ area that will generate much debate over the coming years will be Driverless cars. Quite shocking (to me anyway) is the suggestion that Driverless cars will be on British roads by 2021. This is the latest example of technological advances outstripping society’s ability to adapt and legislate. How this impacts health and safety law is one thing, liability and insurance is quite another. SHP ran an interesting piece on “who’s to blame when self-driving cars crash?” but leaves many questions to be answered for something on our near horizon.

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