How safe is your mobile workforce?

Teletrac Navman
By Ian Daniel*, vice president Asia Pacific, Navman Wireless
Tuesday, 01 November, 2011

Over recent years responsibility for fleet safety has shifted from drivers to organisations and even individual managers - making this a growing issue for Australian businesses.

New occupational health and safety legislation, aimed for release in January 2012, is set to further extend the scope of business liability for employee welfare.

With this in mind, now is the time for businesses to investigate how their responsibilities towards their mobile workforce would be affected by the new laws. By understanding their legal obligations, organisations can start planning to ensure that their mobile workforce safety is a priority and heavy penalties under the new regulations can be avoided.

The scope of responsibility for occupational health and safety has grown significantly over recent years, making businesses increasingly accountable for the welfare of their mobile workforce.

The first major shift came via chain of responsibility provisions in 2003. These regulations made anybody in control of a transport operation, not just the driver, responsible for breaches of road laws.

In 2008, additional chain of responsibility provisions made employers and business operators liable for preventing driver fatigue.

Until this point, authorities had only been able to pursue truck drivers or operators, but this regulation gave them the power to investigate along the chain of command to hold business owners accountable.

This shift towards making businesses responsible for driver safety was mirrored in occupational health and safety (OH&S) legislation. While all Australian states have their own OH&S legislation in place, the focus is broadly similar.

A fleet-managed vehicle is defined as a ‘workplace’ and a duty of care is imposed on employers to ensure the health and safety of their mobile employees in this workplace.

These acts encourage businesses to take a proactive approach to fleet and employee safety. For example the current Victorian legislation requires organisations to implement policies and procedures around safe driving and vehicle safety.

Together, this complex web of regulations makes health and safety an important consideration for local businesses running fleets. With new OH&S legislation scheduled to come into force next year, business liability is set to expand further, leaving safety issues top of mind for local organisations.

The Model Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 is set to implement a national OH&S standard across Australia. It imposes a ‘duty of care’ to ensure the health and safety of mobile workforce. This duty is not only imposed on business owners but also any employee who directly manages them.

Therefore managers who interact with the mobile employees will be directly responsible for OH&S. The legislation proposes fines of up to $600,000 for failure to uphold this duty or a term of up to five years imprisonment.

With the legislation slated for implementation on 1 January 2012, managers need to understand the legal obligations that this Bill imposes. This will give them time to put in place solid practices around fleet safety, protecting employees as well as limiting their own liability.

The legislation requires managers to do what is ‘reasonably practical’ to ensure the health and safety of their mobile workforce. While there is no definition of the measures that will be deemed to be ‘reasonably practicable’ the legislation provides some useful guidance, requiring businesses to:

  • Provide and maintain safe systems of work;
  • Provide the information, training, instruction and supervision that is necessary to protect employees from risks to their health and safety;
  • Monitor workplace conditions to prevent injury to employees.

It is important to note that businesses and managers are not just liable for the safety risks that they know about. They are also held responsible for risks that they ought to know about, encouraging proactivity in managing the safety landscape.

GPS fleet management solutions can help businesses implement and monitor policies around mobile workforce safety. These technologies enable organisations to track employee behaviour in real time and take proactive measures to remedy any risks or hazards. Implementing these solutions will help managers demonstrate that they are monitoring fleet conditions to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

Additionally, these solutions enable organisations to track whether employees are adhering to policies around safety and provide supervision or training to manage compliance.

For businesses with a mobile workforce, ‘monitoring workplace conditions’ means being able to track the safety of vehicles and drivers at all times. GPS fleet management solutions enable organisation to locate employees in their vehicles to within four meters.

Products with satellite or Next-G links provide continuous coverage, even in remote areas, to ensure the safety of drivers on or off highways. In instances of reduced network coverage, managers can still track an employee’s last recorded vehicle location, something that reliance on mobile phones cannot provide.

Some fleet management solutions also offer accident alerts. These devices monitor G-force giro and send an automated signal to the organisation on impact in case the driver cannot make contact. This system allows fleet managers to take remedial action and alert emergency services immediately in the case of an accident.

The new legislation does not just require businesses to set in place policies around fleet safety, it also asks them to proactively monitor compliance with these policies. Here again, fleet management solutions can help businesses demonstrate their compliance with OH&S legislation.

Policies alone may not be enough to encourage employees to change their behaviour. However, fleet management technologies enable businesses to monitor and remedy unacceptable behaviours such as speeding.

These solutions also enable businesses to create ongoing records around driver compliance with safety policies. This allows them to counsel employees with hard statistics around their driving behaviour. This data will help businesses adjust employee attitudes and drive cultural changes.

To monitor and provide a safe workplace, managers need to ensure that businesses’ vehicles are well maintained and fit for purpose. This obligation also extends to any plant and equipment stored on the vehicles.

Fleet tracking technology enables businesses to set up flags and automatic alerts when vehicles and equipment are due for maintenance, based on dates, mileage or engine hours. These alerts can be set up in advance to ensure that fleet managers have time to call the vehicle or equipment in for punctual maintenance. Records can also be kept on what services have taken place, including dates and costs against each vehicle.

Australian fleets often transport goods over long distances, travelling through remote areas at night. This is particularly true of the mining and construction industries in Western Australia where a single job can constitute days of driving. Businesses have a proactive duty to manage the journeys of these drivers, ensuring that they have sufficient rest to prevent driver fatigue.

Fleet tracking enables businesses to monitor the components of an individual driver’s work day, including the time spent driving, loading and stationary. This monitoring takes place via a personal identification number which is required when the ignition is turned on or off.

These solutions are vital when a driver uses multiple vehicles, allowing fleet managers to provide a high level of supervision to protect drivers from risks to their health and safety.

There is no doubt that the legislative landscape is shifting, imposing more responsibility on businesses and fleet managers for driver safety. Before long, the OH&S obligations of businesses are set to extend further, as demonstrated by the provisions of the Model Work Health and Safety Bill 2011.

In this environment it is more important than ever that Australian businesses understand their legal obligations around OH&S and how to meet them.

By using GPS fleet management technologies to demonstrate a proactive approach to driver safety they can reduce risks and hazards as well as limit their liability under the new legislation.

*Ian Daniel, vice president Asia Pacific, Navman Wireless

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