You can’t manage the risks you don’t know about!

No one would disagree, we are living in extremely challenging times as the Coronavirus disrupts family and businesses life in a way we’ve never seen before, and hopefully never will again, however, we will come through this and get back to normal, that’s what we as a nation are good at. When we do, we will likely see a different kind of normal, however, some things will remain the same, unfortunately, I’m referring to road traffic collisions. As we bounce back our roads once again will be busy and more than ever, we need to think about how as caring businesses we can keep staff safe as they drive around our road network.

In a previous news article, I spoke about the need for businesses to think about taking responsibility for road safety, at least for the staff they have who drive as part of their work. To do this, a business needs to embrace driver safety and make it part of the businesses DNA, however,  there are several components that make up a good driver risk management programme, so over a series of articles I’d like to discuss these components, starting with a risk assessment.

Most businesses want to operate in a safe and legal manner and the last thing they want is to have one of their staff injured or killed as a result of the work activity they undertake. Take engineering for example, in a typical workshop there will be numerous pieces of equipment that can, if not used correctly, cause harm. On a construction site, the dangers are ever more present, and if you were involved in offshore gas or oil exploration, the working environment can be hostile and very dangerous. All these environments have their own risk factors; however, the businesses health and safety regime usually safeguards workers against the known risks.  Therefore, the process of good risk management for these and most other businesses starts with a risk assessment, this seeks to identify the risks so that measures can be put in place to mitigate the risks. If everyone then sticks to the rules and given that they are working in a controlled environment, injuries and fatalities should be few and far between. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, even with the most robust of health and safety controls, but lessons learned should seek to prevent a similar incident from occurring again.

I’d like to focus on one work-activity, one that most of us engage in to a more or lesser degree, that’s driving. In my experience, I find the management of driver risk is the poor relation to a business’s overall health and safety regime, in fact, far too many businesses do not consider driving an activity that is risky and therefore miss it out completely from their business risk assessment process.

Let’s look at some stats, according to the Department for Transport, over a quarter of the fatalities that happen on our roads involve someone who at the time of the incident, was driving as part of their work. This equates to a shocking five people per day on average die in a work-related driving incident!

The big problem is that such occurrences, as bad as they are, have little impact on us unless it happens to us or one of our family or friends, we’ve become anesthetized to the problem of deaths on the road, momentarily thinking, ‘that’s terrible’ and then going about our daily lives. There seems to be an almost acceptance that collisions, injuries and deaths are inevitable.

So, here’s a thing, 95% of collisions have driver error as the main contributory factor, in my world, driver risk management, I think this is a good thing, why, because we have an opportunity to influence change for the better. Imagine if 95% of collisions were as a result of mechanical failure! Would we trust our vehicles, probably not!

Going back to the point I made earlier, over a quarter of road-related fatalities involve someone driving as part of their work, so what can businesses do to protect staff and in doing so, meet their obligations under the Health & Safety at work act?

Good driver risk management starts with a risk assessment, this should ideally be a stand-alone risk assessment, not a few lines in your businesses generic risk assessment. Driving is a business’s single biggest risk; it warrants its own comprehensive risk assessment. When I produce a risk assessment for a typical non-complicated business, there are around twenty identified risks that we aim to address, for some businesses, there will be many more.

If your business is large enough to have a Health & Safety manager, he or she will be more than capable of conducting a driver risk assessment, however, for many small businesses they are often left to their own devices, so, I’d like to shed a bit of light onto the subject of conducting a risk assessment for your driving activities.

The idea behind a risk assessment is to identify a risk, what it is, why it may occur, who could be harmed and how, then what you believe you can do to limit, lower or remove the risk. As part of this process you should engage staff from the outset, they may identify issues that need to be included in your Risk Assessment that you might not have thought of!

Let’s look at the headings of a risk assessment in a little more detail:

What are the hazards? This is a description of what we consider the hazards are. A hazard is anything that puts the business, the driver or any other persons at risk. Some risks might be unique to your business, your staff, the vehicles they drive or the journeys they undertake.

Who might be harmed and how? This element seeks to identify who could be harmed if something were to go wrong. It could be the business, reputation, fines etc or the driver, their passengers or anyone else they meet while out driving. Consider everything and always look at a ‘worst case scenario’

What are you already doing to control the risks? This is where you need to be honest with yourself because unless you already have a robust driver safety programme in place, it’s possible that you won’t have many control measures in place. Make a list of what you are currently doing to manage and mitigate the risks you’ve identified. Remember, be honest, put ‘nothing’ if this is the current status quo, you can address this in the next section.

What further action do you need to take to control the risks? Once you have established what controls measures you have in place, you need to think about what else you could do. This might be to better monitor the existing control measures or perhaps add new controls as part of your lessons learned process. If you have entered ‘nothing’ in the above section, think what needs to be in place to eradicate, control  or mitigate the risk.

Who needs to carry out the action? This needs to be named individuals, with a single person taking overall responsibility for the risk assessment.

When is the action needed by? You must set realistic dates for the completion of any identified actions. Make sure all actions are done, never assume they will be!

Once you have your risk assessment in place you are in a much better position to manage the risks faced by your staff when they hit the road. The next step is to produce a driver safety policy, but I’ll talk about this in a future article.

What should we do once we’ve produced our risk assessment? Share it with your staff, ask for feedback and use lessons learned from any incidents to update the risk assessment. Review it annually, more frequently if your business is going through significant change.

Remember, safety is everyone’s responsibility, but you as the business leads must set the framework from which others will work towards, a risk assessment is therefore business critical document.