Employers Liable for Staff Who Drive at Work
Co-Authors: Matthew Kilgannon and Daniella Magennis
Many employers are oblivious to a very important legal responsibility; protecting the health and safety of employees who drive at work.
This obligation brings severe consequences for employers if overlooked and applies where any employee is driving for business-related purposes. This includes where they drive a privately owned car and where their work journey is not a regular part of their employment schedule, such as to attend a networking event, to travel between offices, to drop off an urgent business letter at the local post office or to run any other business errands.
All employers have a duty to take reasonable care to protect employees from the risk of foreseeable injury, disease or death while they are at work. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 build on this duty by placing various statutory obligations on employers, including:
- a requirement for employers to provide a safe place of work and safe working systems for employees.
- a duty to provide “such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is practicable, the health and safety at work of [his] employees”.
- to be accountable when persons not in their employment are exposed to health and safety risks as a result of their business activities. This includes those that are put at risk by an employee who is driving unsafely.
An employer who does not take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks faced by employees driving in the context of work, such as checking they hold a valid MOT and have adequate insurance cover for their car, would be found in breach of their statutory duty for failure of supervision.
To comply with the law, an employer must conduct a “sufficient and suitable” assessment of risks faced by its employees and by others as a consequence of their activities. The employer must also implement appropriate procedures to mitigate and protect against all identified risks. With the introduction of such preventative measures comes an ongoing duty to control, monitor and review their efficacy, including an audit of their adequacy.
Employees must be provided with comprehensible, relevant information and training on the risks they face and on the measures that have been taken to reduce or eliminate all documented health and safety risks.
There are additional legal obligations for employers with more than five employees which includes the provision and active implementation of a written health and safety policy.
A breach of any statutory obligation under health and safety law amounts to a criminal offence by the company and can result in a finding of individual criminal liability for a director. Breaches are sanctioned using various methods; the most common being a fine, often in excess of £100,000. Directors may also face disqualification.
A conviction under health and safety law will have the director and their organisation named and shamed in the Health and Safety Executive’s annual report which is publicly available on the HSE’s website; leaving the company wide open to investor scrutiny and reputational damage.
Directors may also be found guilty of manslaughter where their gross negligence resulted in a death. Directors need not even be aware of the risks created by their activities to be convicted of this offence. Further, an organisation can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter where a management failing has led to a death and this amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
The ever evolving developments in work-related health and safety law have made it absolutely crucial for employers to re-examine their responsibilities and ensure that the extensive range of health and safety statutory obligations are being fulfilled.
In respect of employees driving at work, ensure your organisation has all bases covered when it comes to risk management, vehicle maintenance/suitability, competency/training of drivers, journey management and, of course, internal management processes to monitor, review and react to the changing risks to employees and those affected by the activities of your business. We particularly recommend the introduction and implementation of a company driving policy to cover all risks.
Safety management systems are a strongly recommended investment for any employer and are more favourable than risking a criminal record for manslaughter, disqualification from directorship, a sentence for corporate manslaughter, serious reputational damage to your company or a six figure fine.
If you have any questions regarding the above, please contact Matthew Kilgannon either by telephone on 01483 411517 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to another member of our Employment team. For a free copy of our Driving Policy Checklist, please contact Jamie Currie either by telephone on 01483 411506 or by email: email@example.com.