The NHS must ensure duty of care is in place for staff work journeys or risk facing prosecution. Andy Shettle explains how the process can be streamlined
Driving is considered one of the most dangerous activities for employees to undertake for work purposes. Out of the high number of fatal road casualties occurring in Great Britain every year, between 600-750 incidents involve people or vehicles in work-related crashes.
What is the duty of care?
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, an organisation has a legal duty of care. This means that under this ‘duty of care’ an employer must take reasonable care to protect employees from the risk of foreseeable injury, disease, or death whilst they are at work. An employer’s responsibility extends to ensuring that private vehicles used by employees for work purpose are used in a lawful manner.
Nurses, community workers, and social care professionals regularly drive as part of their daily work, and other NHS staff might also feel the need to use their own vehicle to attend a training course once in a while.
Checking an employee has a valid driving licence, along with vehicle insurance – including for business use – and ensuring a vehicle is roadworthy and well maintained are crucial tasks. Failure to check licences, or reimbursing expenses payments without adequate licence checks could be interpreted as causing or permitting illegal behaviour.
If there is an incident during a work-related journey, the Police and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) may check whether the correct policies and procedures are in place for duty of care.
Everyone picks up the blame
Most line managers within the NHS will believe the responsibility of insurance and upkeep of a vehicle owned by their team member lies with the driver. It doesn’t. In the unfortunate event of a staff member being involved in an incident during a work-related journey, both the driver and their line manager will be at risk of a DVLA conviction and a fine.
There has to be clear evidence that the manager who authorised the journey checked the person’s driver’s licence, the roadworthiness of their vehicle, and their vehicle insurance ahead of the driver’s journey.
So why run the risk if it is so easy to get it right? As the NHS is so devolved, the responsibility relating to t duty of care can so easily fall through the cracks. With so many departments, it is harder to identify where the responsibility lies for ensuring the correct duty of care measures are in place. I would recommend that every line manager is made aware of the risks associated with failing to check with their team before sending anyone on a work related journey. It is also up to the senior management to ensure that the culture of the organisation takes duty of care seriously and encourages best practice.
Duty of care can often be perceived as an enormous administrative burden, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Below are five steps to developing and implementing a good ‘duty of care’ process into your organisation, including developing new policies and finding the right technology to automate key tasks.
1. Update and communicate the policy
Promoting safe driving at work will create a safer workforce. Any policies you develop should address common issues and risks associated with driving such as speed, tiredness whilst driving, and distances covered. Around 10% of accidents on main roads and 20% on motorways are caused by fatigue. Your duty of care policy would need to encourage employees to take regular breaks on long journeys, and might even go so far as to advising overnight breaks if the distance travelled exceeds 300 miles.
2. Conduct road safety training
Training and communication of the policy need to be widespread and frequent – even for those that rarely travel for work purposes. The training shouldn’t just cover the company’s driving policy but also good and safe driving techniques. It should also cover frequently asked questions such as the safe use of hands-free devices.
This is a good example of why you need to develop a policy – whilst hands-free kits are allowed legally, a driver still may be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, which in turn could be interpreted as a failing on the part of your organisation’s senior managers.
These first two steps around developing a duty of care policy and the implementation of it are very much for the benefit of your employees, as well as you and your organisation. Every driver will have a different level of skill, so communicating and promoting safe driving techniques can be hugely beneficial. As you begin to implement duty of care policies you’ll soon start to find that administrative tasks take up far more time than is necessary, which is why we’d advise looking for a technology solution that can automate many of these tasks
3. Keep documented evidence
There really is nothing more powerful you can do than to keep records to demonstrate you’ve taken every step necessary to ensure a duty of care to your staff. Copies of driving licences, MOT certificates, and vehicle service histories not only show you’ve taken the time to check that your employee is safe to drive, but you can then begin to develop risk profiles of employees that may have any driving endorsements or convictions.
4. Evaluate different systems
Once you have all the relevant documentation from your employees, it would be worth considering how you plan on storing it. Digital copies will not only save time and space, but with the right technology solution, you can automate many of the lookup tasks such as driving licence and MOT checks. The DVLA allows organisations to look-up information on drivers, with employee authorisation, so a system that can do this for you means you don’t have to worry about missing whether your employee has any endorsements or even driving convictions.
Management reporting, such as in our Expenses cloud service, can help review employees who have a high-risk profile or who incur high business miles and can deliver dashboards as reminders for document checks. With an estimated 1.6 million people carrying an out of date photo card driving licence, a minimum yearly check should be implemented.
5. Monitor and audit
Having considered the risks, implemented a policy, and started using a system to help manage your obligations, this whole process should be revisited and audited periodically. An audit ensures that the process is considered systematically and is relevant and continues to develop, helping you identify where further improvements can be made to policy or training as an example.
Those working in the NHS are often so busy caring for patients that they sometimes inadvertently miss the importance of duty of care for themselves. By taking steps to develop and maintain a good duty of care policy around driving you’re not only ensuring that you’re adhering to your legal obligations, but you’re also likely helping to improve the safety of your employees as well.
Chief Product Officer
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