Employer's duty of care on driving for work

A brief summary of the relevant legislation is shown below.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This act requires you to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all employees while at work. You also have a responsibility to ensure that others (non-employees) are not put at risk by your work related activities. Driving while at work in such an activity.

Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Under these additional regulations you have a responsibility to manage health and safety effectively. You need to carry out an assessment of the risks to the health and safety of your employees, while they are at work, and to other people who may be affected by their work activities. The Regulations require you to periodically review your risk assessment so that it remains appropriate. You must keep a record of the risk assessment and any measures implemented.

Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007

For the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care. The act came into effect in April 2008.

Prosecutions will be of the corporate body and not individuals, but the liability of directors, board members or other individuals under health and safety law or general criminal law, will be unaffected. And the corporate body itself and individuals can still be prosecuted for separate health and safety offences.

In determining culpability the jury may consider the extent to which the evidence shows that there were attitudes, policies, systems, or acceptable practices within the organisation that were likely to encourage failures in respect to existing health and safety legislation or guidance causing a gross breach of their duty of care.

Health and Safety Offences Act 2008

The effect of this Act was primarily to increase penalties and provide courts with greater sentencing powers for those who are found in breach of health and safety legislation. The new powers came into force in January 2009. The effect of the Act is to:

  • Raise the maximum fine which may be imposed in the lower courts to £20,000 for most health and safety offences;
  • Make imprisonment an option for more health and safety offences in both the lower and higher courts;
  • Make certain offences, which are currently triable only in the lower courts, triable in either the lower or higher courts.

Other legislation of note

There is other legislation and requirements which apply to all road users. These are typically heavily focused towards the driver, who will bear the greatest burden of responsibility. The Road Traffic Act and Construction and Use Regulations are examples. Although these primarily focus on the driver, under ‘cause or permit’ principles the company should not either cause or knowingly permit an employee to breach these regulations.

The major risk to organisations now is the increased potential for successful civil actions against them where it can be proved that the organisation was negligent in its health and safety obligations and therefore its duty of care, with the prospect of very significant fines or payments of compensation.

Put quite simply the days when you could assume driving while at work was primarily the responsibility of the driver are long gone.