The Insider: Taking responsibility
I'm not quite getting the idea of the latest news on the Corporate Manslaughter Act. Not that I wish to trivialise what is undoubtedly a serious subject and well-intentioned Act. Apparently it is not seen as successful because there have been very few prosecutions – and so the latest update is to toughen the fines. How will that help?
I assume the thinking is that it would frighten companies into taking their responsibilities even more seriously, rather than weighing up whether a safety shortcut here and there is worth the risk. But the issue appears to be the ability to bring successful prosecutions in the first place. Actually, the best mark of success would be no prosecutions because there are no serious failings occurring; not very likely unfortunately.
Since the introduction of the Act, just five successful prosecutions have been made, with seven others underway. Thankfully, none has related to at-work fleet drivers – yet. Now that may be because we all have realistic policies in place, effectively managed. But I don’t think so. According to road safety organisation Brake, just one in three of us is backing up policy by providing our drivers with the knowledge and training to keep our roads safe and policies effective.
So many things which we might think is common sense needs to be spelled out to our employees. Helping them to plan realistic journey schedules, avoiding congested areas, avoiding risky overtaking manoeuvres, and slowing to 20mph near schools being just a few. Then there is provision of eye tests, education about drink-drive limits, the dangers of taking a variety of over-the-counter medications, and checking for their sake and ours that they have a valid and current licence for the vehicle they are to drive. My company car policy and handbook runs to 20 pages. That’s before we get to psychometric profiling, e-learning and on-the-road driving courses. Some of us are already spending a small fortune to try and keep our fleets safe.
Yet even after taking all these steps, company drivers will still get into trouble. And here’s the problem. No-one sets out on a journey with the aim of either having or causing an accident which they or others may not survive. People generally feel safe and cocooned in their cars. You have only to count the number of insurance claim forms which have the word “suddenly” written in them to realise that people aren’t concentrating on the job in hand, not anticipating situations, and certainly not considering the consequences of getting it wrong.
So actually what we really need to do, even before spending small fortunes on all those potentially life-saving ideas above, is to sit our employees down and show them the aftermath and consequences of serious accidents, the broken families, the person living with the remorse of having taken another life, so that they really do understand you are a long time dead, and there is no coming back from it – something which really tugs at the heart strings. But I guess that’s considered not very pc, or we might upset an employee here and there by doing so.
The duty of care message needs to start by instilling a sense of self-preservation, responsibility and accountability into every person who drives on our business. And if we can, to also pass that message on to their families, who may also use our vehicles. If we can get that message across, then the reasoning for promoting the rest of our policies should become clear in the driver’s head.
And at that point, we may lessen our company’s chances of becoming mired in a Corporate Manslaughter prosecution. But then it won’t be the fear or prosecution which drives us, but the knowledge we have got to the heart of the real problem.