How do you ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of commercial drivers when they’re operating in such a pressurised environment?
It’s an ongoing challenge that’s faced by all managers of mobile workers.
It’s the formidable task of trying to maintain operational efficiency while not exposing your fieldworkers to any unnecessary risks.
Achieving the right balance is a constant struggle.
What makes it so difficult is that it involves every aspect of road based operations - from basic safety training and rest breaks to fitness and healthy eating options.
It’s a balance which many companies are failing to achieve.
It’s estimated that more than a quarter of all road traffic accidents in the UK involve somebody driving for work purposes.
And the safety of drivers is linked to their health and wellbeing. A 2017 study found that 86% of professional drivers are overweight, more than three times the UK national average (26%).
So what can be done?
First of all, it’s important to know exactly what the legal responsibilities are in terms of health and safety for road-based mobile workers.
What does the law say?
There are no specific laws which apply to mobile workers, it’s covered by a number of different regulations.
The main one is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
This states that employers have a legal responsibility to ensure, ‘so far is reasonably practicable’, the health, safety and welfare of employees who are required to drive.
Note: This covers only their work-related activities and not any commutes to and from the workplace.
In addition, there’s the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
This covers the need for managers to:
Have a safety management plan
Carry out and record risk assessments
Implement any safety controls needed
Provide workers with safety training and knowledge
Ensure employees are physically and psychologically capable
Develop and maintain emergency procedures
There are also the regulations governing the hours that mobile workers can work when driving is a component of their job.
For mobile work within the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland, this is covered by the Transport Act 1968 and covers vehicles under 3.5 tonnes.
Note: Northern Ireland has a separate set of legislation.
The rules refer to ‘duty time’ which for employed drivers is any working time. For self-employed, it’s the time spent at the wheel.
The rules state that:
The maximum daily driving time is 10 hours
The maximum daily duty time is 11 hours
All hours must be recorded if workers are required to drive for more than four hours in the day.
The business benefits of healthy drivers
Along with the legal responsibilities, providing a safe and healthy operational practices for drivers delivers a number of potential benefits for a business. These include:
Improved workforce morale - boost to productivity
Reduced employee absence - less days lost to sickness
More stable and loyal workforce - reduced employee ‘churnover’
Company branding - improved image and recruitment
So it’s worth looking beyond what’s legally required and starting to genuinely look at areas where potential risks exists and how they can be minimised.
Here’s a look at four effective strategies:
1. Create a healthy culture
The importance of providing a safe working environment for drivers and the potential benefits it delivers help to justify adopting a proactive approach to health and well-being.
Businesses need to incentivise healthy practices and look for ways that healthy choices can be promoted and supported throughout an organisation. This could be introducing walk-to-work and cycle schemes or supporting physically active teams and clubs.
Even something simple, such as providing mobile workers with access to free fruit, can have an impact. Making sure people have access to healthy eating options is particularly important for employees who spend their time on the road.
It’s by taking a holistic approach that the ‘culture’ of an organisation can start to change. Making healthy and active options the norm within a workplace.
2. Adopt smarter scheduling
When drivers are stressed, tired and rushing to meet deadlines - the health and safety risks are significantly increased. It’s not just the immediate danger of an accident but also the longer term impact of working in stressful conditions.
For managers of mobile workers, trying to maintain operational efficiency while shielding employees from unnecessary risks is a constant challenge. It’s reflected in the tough decisions that have to be made when creating schedules and task lists.
But this is one area where the tools available to schedulers have been transformed by the use of cloud-based management methods. Systems such as MyMobileWorkers combine real-time data with GPS tracking to provide accurate operational data.
It allows scheduling to better reflect the real-world practicalities of road users, with rest breaks and realistic travel times based on real-time data being integrated into workflow.
3. Explore digital solutions
One of the management challenges posed by mobile working is the remote nature of the work. How do you monitor employees’ health and wellbeing when they’re spending the majority of their time out in the field?
It’s a problem where technology has some interesting solutions. One of these is the use of wearable tracking devices to encourage physical activity for workers who spend large amounts of time behind the wheel.
Devices such as the FitBit are already being used by haulage and bus companies to incentivise drivers to take more active breaks during the day. There are also a whole range of smartphone apps now available to monitor areas such as fatigue, stress levels and blood pressure.
While these are no replacement for human perception, they provide additional tools to help monitor health and well-being.
4. Tackle stress factors
While it’s not ‘reasonably practicable’ to eliminate stress from mobile working, it is something that needs to be constantly monitored. The pressure to meet deadlines while negotiating a congested road network can have a damaging impact on health and wellbeing.
While smarter scheduling plays an important role, it also requires an organisational environment in which workers are able to talk about issues. And the ability to talk to somebody is often difficult for mobile workers who are operating remotely.
It makes it especially important to create situations where they can raise concerns and share problems. There also needs to a structure to ensure that legitimate concerns are properly addressed.
Many companies are now using video conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts and Skype to provide a quick and convenient way for face-to-face chats between team members.
What have we learned?
Staying healthy and safe really isn't easy for commercial drivers but there's lots that managers can do to help minimise the risks.
The benefits of doing so are straightforward: it leads to better driver health, less sickness and more energy for both work and play.