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Addressing the human factor post accident

Repairing broken metal is just one aspect of accident management; the key element is the impact on the staff and their subsequent wellbeing. Curtis Hutchinson reports.

"The human element in fleet accidents is not given the attention that it deserves or requires…"

“The human element in fleet accidents is not given the attention that it deserves or requires…”

Duty of Care regulations recognise that company cars, or private cars used for business, are an extension of the workplace and subject to the same rules safeguarding the welfare of staff. However, cars can rapidly become a hostile environment when something goes wrong, which is why employers need to have accident management programmes in place that do not just address the needs of repairing or replacing broken metal.

For every employee-related road traffic accident there is a human issue to address. Has the member of staff received sufficient post-accident care, does their workload need to be reassessed, is there a requirement for driver training? This human element can often be lost in processes geared towards the vehicle, which is why it is important for employers to regularly review the way accidents are managed from a staff perspective.

The Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM) has long advocated the need for employers to have processes in place to address the effect of accidents on members of staff and the need for fleet managers to work closely with those responsible for health and safety compliance within their company.

“Only focusing on the business risk is no longer an acceptable stance. Fleet operational responsibility has naturally evolved and now requires expert support from a broader range of fleet responsible stakeholders, which includes a company’s health and safety manager,” says ICFM director, Peter Eldridge (above).

The ICFM believes it is important to adopt a process that identifies risk, assesses its possible impact and enables decisions to be made. “Risks must be identified before they can be measured and only after their impact has been assessed can decisions be made that will fully support duty of care. This is a good place to start when considering the wellbeing of any fleet driver who has unfortunately been involved in a road traffic accident,” Eldridge adds.

“This should also be extended to address the clear distinction between incidents that involve a driver, or passenger, injury and those which result only in vehicle damage. In the case of the former, it is good policy to have separate and distinct First Notification of Loss (FNOL) procedures in place which direct injury-related claims straight to the health and safety department.”

Arval, one of the UK’s biggest suppliers of company cars, recently identified a need to better recognise the human element in its fleet management services.

“Last year, we completely overhauled our accident management product and one of the main factors in doing this was a recognition that, too often, the human element in fleet accidents is not given the attention that it deserves or requires,” says Ian Pearson, Arval’s head of insurance.

“Traditionally, this is a process-driven type of product that is all about recovering the damaged vehicle, arranging hire cars, processing the repair, and so on. These are clearly essential but do not take account of the fact that the driver has been through an experience that they may have found very traumatic, even if the accident was only a minor one.”

Its new process includes what it terms a personal “comfort call” to the driver within hours of the accident. “We check that they are okay and explain the steps that we are going to take them through over the following hours, days and weeks to get them back on the road. At the same time we can arrange alternative transport, and repair and return their vehicle.

“The staff we use are not in any sense therapists or counsellors, but they do play an important role in offering a sympathetic and sensible ear to the driver. Sometimes, the person is upset or hurt, and we will offer them advice on how to get help; sometimes they are angry and we will listen to their concerns and help to show them how our service will help resolve their problems.”

Having the right processes in place is a fundamental way to manage both the immediate aftermath of an accident and the long-term impact on an employee, which is where having formal accident management cover in place is an important consideration.

“A car accident is a stressful experience for anyone, even for the most confident of drivers. While the safety implications are obvious, the correct processes and emotional impact aren’t always so clear-cut,” explains Scott Hamilton-Cooper, director of sales and operations at Accident Exchange (below left), the accident management specialist.

“Having the right procedures in place, in the form of a good post-accident management service and proper training, is essential. By taking the correct steps, fleet managers and accident management providers can help reduce the risk of an accident and ensure damage limitation to employees and employers alike should the worst happen.

“The emotional impact of an accident doesn’t end at the roadside and fleet managers have a Duty of Care to ensure the wellbeing of their employees in the period afterwards. An accident management provider will be able to advise on the process of treating injured or traumatised drivers with the required specialist care, helping to precipitate their recovery and return to work as efficiently as possible.”

Andy Caine, head of accident services at BT Fleet Solutions, (right) the fleet management specialist, has a similar view: “Businesses should first and foremost ensure that their fleet drivers know what process is to be followed should they be involved in a motor collision; a good accident management company will provide support around driver communications. Nobody wakes up in the morning expecting to have an incident and not knowing what action to take can be both distressing to the driver and costly for the employer.

“Many accident management companies spend a great deal of focus training their advisors to empathise with a driver’s situation and focus on ensuring that the driver is reassured and kept informed of what needs to happen and why, you should check with your provider regarding what training is delivered to their advisors in this regard.”

Importantly, BT Fleet Solutions also advocates that employers adopt an approach that does not apportion blame as this can be self-defeating: “Organisations should adopt a no-blame culture which should encourage drivers to be honest around how the incident occurred which will in turn enable accurate decision making. A good accident management provider will furnish the client with comprehensive data intelligence and will support by offering suggestions around how to reduce incident frequency. It is essential that drivers are prepared to report incidents honestly and in full to enable accurate analysis.”

Clearly, protecting staff should be the starting point of any accident management agreement and be treated as an integral part of a company’s Duty of Care responsibilities. Keeping your staff safe and caring for them after an accident should always come before dealing with broken metal.

“Organisations should adopt a no-blame culture which should encourage drivers to be honest around how the incident occurred which will in turn enable accurate decision making.”

Choosing an accident management provider

Having established the need for employers to have an accident management policy in place that acknowledges their Duty of Care responsibilities, rather than just manage a disabled vehicle, what should fleets expect from a provider?

ICFM director, Peter Eldridge, believes accident management providers should dovetail with a company’s existing Duty of Care and HR processes.

“There should be no mystique associated with the selection of an accident management partner who can fully support individual business requirements, including employee care; but the fundamental principle involved is that there is no such thing as a blueprint customer, especially since vehicle fleets usually have individual operational identities and requirements,” he says.

“The secret for successful outsourcing selection is quite straightforward; businesses that have existing policies in place, which have robustly addressed employee care, will stand a greater chance of achieving a mirrored outsource service that maintains or exceeds existing standards.

“Conversely, it is of course possible to find an outsource accident management partner that can deliver higher standards of employee care than presently exist, but it is important to ensure that the style and methodology of the proposed service meet the needs and culture of the business as a whole.

“When considering any outsource option, it is vital that all stakeholders with fleet responsibility are consulted and involved in the selection process, especially those from HR and health and safety.”

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Curtis Hutchinson

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