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The Insider: Medical schooling

By / 3 years ago / Comment / No Comments

The Glasgow bin lorry crash, together with other similar cases that are now coming to light, is incredibly sad, and highlights a number of areas where the law is failing to protect employers. As a result I am re-evaluating our own company procedures. Even though our drivers aren’t in public service vehicles, or even large vehicles, the thought of any driver in our employment becoming semi or fully-unconscious behind the wheel, and running out of control, doesn’t bear thinking about. And although the moral standpoint is the key factor, the inevitable publicity surrounding such an event would hardly be good for business either.

I made this point to HR recently and received a response. “What must we do legally?” Surely this is no longer about what we must do legally, but what we should be doing to ensure the safety of our own employees, and members of the public? To be fair, they did follow up with “And what is best practice?”

On a non-vocational fleet – by which I mean where the employee drives in order to complete his job, but that driving per se isn’t his actual job – it has frequently been accepted that checking for a valid driving licence and perhaps undertaking some kind of practical assessment is the norm. Although I’ll bet most companies aren’t doing the practical bit either. The company car policy will likely also cover self-declaring any medical conditions, although that’s probably slightly hidden away on page 25 or some such.

But the requirement for more detailed pre-employment medical questioning has always been down to HR to check and really, it’s now looking a bit inadequate. HR will claim they are hamstrung by Section 60 of the Equality Act which says they may not ask very specific questions about an individual’s health but as I see it, if driving is an intrinsic part of the job – which it must be to allow the applicant to carry it out – then some questions would be fair; especially if couched in such a way that the employer needs to know in order to make any appropriate adjustments to help the employee.

It is also unacceptable for a reference from a previous employer to include any detrimental information about a potential employee, so we can glean nothing from them. And if DVLA state that it is an offence to give a false declaration about medical conditions affecting one’s ability to drive, carrying a potential two year prison sentence, yet are unwilling to prosecute when that happens, how are employers supposed to satisfy themselves? Congratulations DVLA, because with that confirmation that you won’t prosecute, in the face of plenty of incriminating evidence, you’ve just opened the floodgates to other unscrupulous characters knowing they can flout the law and get away with it.

I suspect the Glasgow scenario is not as unusual as we would hope and that, across the UK, there are already numerous employees protected by systems which don’t ask too many questions.

In an age where complete honesty is not seen as the best policy by many people, surely we owe it to our colleagues – who may be asked to travel with these people – and the public, to ensure we have done everything in our power to keep our roads safer. And if a position of trust is regularly being abused by those willing to make false declarations then I’d like some help in that direction with a change in the law which allows a more detailed line of questioning on medical issues, backed up by valid proof from a GP or company nominated practitioner.

This is not about feeling sorry for an individual who is unsuitable for a particular position in terms of their health. It’s about the safety of you and me, and all those to whom we owe a duty of care.

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