Karen McDonnell, Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), looks at the risks surrounding driving for work and what vehicle recycling operations should consider to ensure they create a safer working environment for their employees.
Driving for work is the most hazardous thing we do for many of us. Looking at the evidence, RoSPA is clear that organisations should manage driving risk as they would any other risk to their organisation. Throughout the pandemic, the essential workers within the world of auto recycling have continued to support people and organisations recovering vehicles and recycling components.
During the pandemic, RoSPA’s message has been to pause and prioritise your people, irrespective of whether you are a micro or multinational business: To recognise and manage the risk of COVID, creating secure conditions whilst remaining situationally aware. The hazards and risks associated with vehicle recovery and recycling remain.
Let’s think about driving for work…
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Department for Transport (DfT) figures suggest that more than one in four traffic incidents on our roads involve someone driving for work. Based on DfT data for Great Britain in 2019, this means that, based on 1,752 deaths in total, more than 438 people are estimated to have died in a road accident involving somebody driving as part of their work. This compares to 111 workers who were killed in accidents in workplaces in 2019/20.
Police data gathered in 2019 estimated that there were 25,945 serious injuries and 125,461 slight injuries in total on the roads, so this would suggest that more than 6,486 people were seriously injured and more than 31,365 slightly injured in work-related road accidents.
The reason we still have to talk in terms of estimates of work-related road accidents is because unlike other serious work-related accidents, they are not reportable to the Regulator under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995. “Journey purpose” information is also not collected systematically by the police.
However, these estimates certainly begin to tell the story, showing the striking difference between the numbers killed in workplace accidents and those killed in a road accident involving someone driving as part of their work.
Managing the risk
Over the last year, RoSPA and the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ScORSA), have played a part in the revision of HSE INDG 382, which has now been relaunched in the form of an interactive website. The conversations around virtual tables have resulted in a site that will provide useful practical advice on the issues associated with driving for work. The beauty of moving from ‘paper’ to a website will enable the inclusion of additional signposts as new topics emerge; this will assist more organisations to begin to manage driving risk as they would any other risk.
The baseline for RoSPA’s work is that “people deserve to be protected” and quite simply, accidents don’t need to happen. And this is where we believe that managing work-related road safety is not just about protecting workers as drivers or passengers but also (and as much) about protecting the wider public who are in the road environment.
The road, whether urban, rural or motorway, is a shared space, and in addition to the impact on those who drive and ride for work, vulnerable road users and indeed passengers are part of the picture. The interface between those who drive and ride for work and pedestrians, cyclists and powered two-wheelers results in many fatalities and serious injuries.
When reading about managing driving risk, the thoughts of OSH practitioners should immediately make the connection to employers’ duties in Section 3 of the HSW Act. Learnt at the outset of careers, it is a ‘shall’ requirement of employers and self-employed to go about their work in a way to ensure that members of the public are not exposed to risks to their health and safety… so if you employ people who drive for work, your risk is on the road.
Managing the risk holistically and adopting a ‘plan-do-check-act’ cycle starts at what RoSPA believes is the very beginning. Pause and take a big picture approach to your organisation’s road transport activities and identify where your greatest risk exposure lies. Where and how can the risk be reduced?
What’s your experience?
Just as work and life have blurred during the pandemic, there is a ‘read-across’ the topics of workplace transport and driving for work. The former has established a practical focus on safe journey, safe vehicle and safe driver which organisations understand.
The opportunity now exists for telling the story. As a community, we thrive on information exchange. We understand the words “consultation” and “engagement”. It is the process associated with these words that will magnify the voice of those killed and seriously injured as a consequence of driving for work.
For many years, a RoSPA key issue has been the importance of “learning from safety failure”; building on root cause analysis of accidents and incidents towards proactively tracking relevant key performance indicators (KPI). Does your organisation have KPIs relating to driving for work?
The RoSPA vision is to support the development of case studies that assist organisations to engage in continuous improvement around driving for work – placing more emphasis on the importance of learning from and periodically reviewing operational experience.
Take the OUCH out of driving for work by owning the issue, understanding your data, and controlling the risk by managing holistically while recognising that it is often the voice of those who have lost their lives that galvanises action. Don’t let it be a familiar voice: these accidents don’t need to happen.
Death of Mark Fiebig: www.elystandard.co.uk/news/firm-fined-in-wake-of-death
About Dr Karen McDonnell
As OSH Policy Adviser at RoSPA, Karen’s work helps deliver their vision of more lives free from serious accidental injury through the exchange of life-enhancing knowledge and skills.
Focussing on the working-age population and key issues, including fatigue, she has gained strategic and operational experience globally.