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DOES THE HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK ACT APPLY TO COMPANY VEHICLES?

I’ve spent a bit of time on the road this year. A few weeks ago, I was driving home from Coromandel when I noticed several company vehicles including an SUV signwritten quite prominently with the logos of a well-known brand from the building and construction industry approaching from behind very quickly, and start to tailgate me. We were both in a long line of traffic which was moving at 100km/h, but this guy carried on for some distance, until he pulled out and accelerated past everyone at excessive speed until, in the distance, I watched him approach oncoming traffic and at the last minute (without indicating) swing back into our line and cut off vehicles he had just sped past.

I honestly thought I was about to witness a crash, and started thinking about my exact location for when I called 111. I was angry. I spent 14 years working in the Emergency Services, and can’t even remember the number of serious traffic crashes I’ve attended. Some stand out, but over time the noises and smells, the chaos and destruction, the blood and injuries and senseless loss of life start to blur together.

All About People blogged in May last year about vehicles being a Workplace, and examined legislation which relates. It got me thinking about how if the driver of that vehicle had caused a crash and injured and killed someone, Police would undoubtedly bring charges against him. But would (or could) WorkSafe NZ? After all, he would have recklessly used a piece of work gear (the vehicle) in a manner which has injured or killed another person. We all have a duty to drive safety and follow the rules laid out in the Land Transport Act, but if we are driving a company vehicle do we have the additional duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act?

Advice from WorkSafe NZ is that there hasn’t been any precedence set yet in terms of additional charges being brought by them, but that wouldn’t rule out this occurring in the future where work related factors contributed to the crash. Some employers have reported Notifiable Injuries resulting from crashes involving company vehicles though, so there is scope for WorkSafe NZ to investigate and potentially prosecute in the future, including prosecuting employers where their influence is a contributing factor. As we all know, the penalties are significant.

Physical harm aside, is the way your Workers operate your company vehicles exposing your company to reputational risk? The discussion thus far has related to Health and Safety, and the possible consequences when a crash occurs, but what about the adverse effects to your organisation if vehicles branded with your logo are being misused? Is monitoring the use of company vehicles a Human Resources function in your organisation, or a Health and Safety one? Or is it both?

Empower the team to take ownership of company vehicles, and make good decisions about how they are operated. When a vehicle is allocated, discuss the consequences when the vehicle is poorly driven. Consider corporate Driver Training through organisations like the AA (who have a great resource for developing a Safe Driving Policy here. Take a stance that your workers are critical to you, and that it’s important that they have the right tools (including vehicles) to do the job, but that like any tool they must be used correctly. When safety is core to the culture of your organisation, behaviour improves and everyone reaches their destination safety.

For more guidance on empowering your team contact us on 0800 023 789 or info@allaboutpeople.co.nz

Darren Hodgetts, All About People Fire Safety Specialist

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