In the fast-moving estate agency environment it is easy for business owners to potentially overlook areas of legislation and good business practice that could prove to be hugely damaging and, in the case of employee car arrangements, potentially life threatening.
Many staff in the estate agency world either drive a company vehicle or provide their own vehicle for use on company business.
Business owners should be aware they have a duty to ensure that matters such as roadworthiness, appropriate insurance, driver capability etc are to the required level, and that they can personally be liable for the actions of their staff when it comes to using a vehicle.
Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, business owners need to ensure that they operate a coherent and manageable vehicle and driver risk assessment programme if they provide company vehicles or people have to drive as part of their work.
A business owner will be guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which they manage or organise activities causes a person’s death as a result of a gross breach of a duty of care.
The vehicle and driver risk assessment programme will apply whether you run a large corporate fleet or are a smaller company with just a couple of employees. This programme should include:
- A clear policy covering the use of vehicles and driving, either as a separate policy or relevant clauses included in the Written Statement of Main Terms and Conditions of Employment.
- A vehicle and driver risk assessment – including a realistic assessment of the risks and remembering to include anyone who may be involved: this includes others who may be allowed to drive company vehicles, for example spouses and partners, and staff who use their own vehicle on company business.
- Regular driver checks – not just at commencement but also periodically (at least every 12 months) covering licence, insurance, driving skills and health, including basic eye-checks. Relevant training should be offered to employees who need it, for example because of their accident record.
- Regular vehicle checks.
- Check the suitability of the company vehicles for the drivers and the work carried out.
- Creating an audit trail: it is not just about doing all this, but being able to show that you have done it. This also includes properly following up on incidents and accidents.
- Regular communication.
If you drive a company vehicle or are responsible for others who drive in the course of their work you need to be aware of your responsibilities.
Some employers believe incorrectly that provided they comply with traffic law regulations, ie ensuring that their company vehicles have a valid MOT and they are adequately insured, then this is enough to satisfy Health and Safety Regulations . . . wrong!
Health and safety legislation requires businesses to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees whilst driving for work. The Health and Safety at Work Act, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, and Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations all apply, as well as the Road Traffic Act.
The Health & Safety at Work Act applies to on-the-road activities, including people using their own cars for business purposes, just as much as they do in other workplaces.
The risks involved for your staff and the general public need to be assessed.
Having asked many dozens of clients about the arrangements they have in place regarding cars and the provision of car allowances within their businesses, I have to report a mixed bag of responses.
I am pleased to say that many firms were treating this very responsibly and thoroughly, but there were others for whom it came as a complete shock and who have now undertaken reviews and implemented clear and enforced policies and checks to ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and that risk is minimised and mitigated.
Many found that staff with car allowances were only insuring their vehicles for social, domestic and pleasure and not for business use. This could mean they would be uninsured in the event of an accident on company business. Not good for them, any third party involved or the business they are working for.
I don’t need to paint a picture of the guilt, the human and financial cost and adverse PR that could arise from a failure to operate with appropriate policies.
This may not be the sexiest subject as it won’t really help you let, or sell, any more properties.
It could however help ensure that you, your staff and your business are able to continue to do so!
Michael Day MBA FRICS FNAEA
Integra Property Services