RISK MANAGEMENT: In good fleet spirits
08 December 2009
As we enter the season of goodwill, does your fleet take the necessary steps to ensure every driver is as safe as can be? Paul Barker reports
It's the most dangerous time of the year to be using the UK's roads.
More people are killed or seriously injured on them in November and December than at any other point in the year, as a combination of poor weather and less light, as well as other factors such as end-of-year work pressure and medication for winter colds, take their toll.
So now's the time fleets for fleets to ensure that their policies are in place, and, more importantly, that they are actually being followed. There's no use having the perfect, best-practice, driver's handbook if no-one is paying it any attention.
It's the time of year when employees, under pressure to finish projects before the seasonal break, can be tempted to act in a way they wouldn't at any other time of the year.
The Christmas party, or to be more precise, the morning after the Christmas party, is the prime example. Most companies have now reached the point where they appreciate the issues around drink-driving, and will either organise transport or hotels, but that doesn't address the problem of driving the following day.
"Sometimes you can be way over the limit the next afternoon. There is a need to raise awareness of what the unit volume actually is," says Andrew Price, practice leader - motor fleet for Zurich Risk Services. "It's not a case of stopping people enjoying themselves, it's knowing when they will be safe to drive."
Price has a demonstration test that no-one has yet got right, where he lines up a 'virtual bar' and asks fleets to put the drinks in order of unit volume. "It's rare to find that people have tried to raise awareness. They have policies, but it's rare to find an education process," he comments. "They don't know how to calculate the number of units."
A spokesman for the Driving for Better Business Campaign agrees that firms need to be aware of the morning after issue. "If the office party is an evening, it should be that employees are not expected to be driving the next day," he says. "At this time of year there are pressures that will increase the risks."
Nigel Grainger, senior consultant at Fleet Risk Consultants, recommends that businesses hold their Christmas bash on a Friday or Saturday, to ensure staff don't have to drive the next morning. "Get supervisors to be extra vigilant for staff arriving at work generally over the Christmas period who may still be under the influence of alcohol or drugs," he says. "It is the season to party after all."
Zurich's Price is keen to point out that although drinking isn't just a Christmas issue, people tend to consume more alcohol in a shorter period of time at this time of year, and that late nights can also take their toll. "Alcohol tends to interrupt sleep patterns - you have a sleep deficit - and especially on long journeys there is a greater risk of fatigue," he says.
Even though the responsibility for not breaking the law lies with the driver, there are plenty of reasons for companies to take an interest in how their workers are behaving.
Mark Smith of Company-Car-Log says that for every £1 in insured loss, somewhere between £8-£36 in uninsured loss occurs in an accident because of a combination of factors including staff absence due to injuries, and missed appointments or meetings.
Andrew Price agrees. "Though it is the duty of the employee not to be driving when over the drink-drive limit, it makes good sense, not least from a financial perspective, to manage all risks."
As soon as the clocks change every October, the extra hour of darkness, combined with the threat of damper, colder nights, adds another layer of risk to corporate drivers.
"As soon as the emergency services start talking about adverse weather conditions, it comes down to journey planning and people making the decision about whether that journey is absolutely necessary," says Price. "If it is necessary, then the company needs to make sure that the car is in peak condition, and most drivers leave that process until it is too late."
Smith's firm, Company-Car-Log, gives drivers a detailed checklist of elements they should be safety-checking on a weekly basis. He feels that, while fleets are good at sticking to servicing schedules, there is something of a lax attitude among business car drivers to the basics such as tyre pressure or tyre condition checks. "It's a case of being disciplined and getting people into the habit," he says.
Smith also points out that staff could lose their driving license if found to have four tyres below the legal limit, as each tyre carries a three point penalty and maximum £2500 fine, while something as straightforward as an empty screenwash bottle can turn into three points on the driver's licence and a £1000 fine.
The dreaded influenza virus is another factor at this time of year, with drivers generally taking a causal attitude to the side-affects of medication.
"The big issue is people's perceptions," says Zurich's Price.
"If the label says 'may cause drowsiness' people think it won't happen to them, but it means it's likely to cause drowsiness."
Price does, though, point out that medication is an equally big problem in the summer, with hay fever drugs as likely as flu remedies to provoke drowsiness.
Fleet Risk Consultant's Nigel Grainger warns not to over-complicate the issue. "Keep it simple," he says, recommending that staff should tell their doctor they drive for business, and make sure they read the warnings on labels and notes.
He concludes with a stark message for all fleet managers: "This is a good time to send out reminders to your staff about safe driving as a dead employee at Christmas is one of the worse things possible. Just think - you will be reminded of it each and every season."