Fleet managed vehicles and OH&S implication

Each Australian state and territory has its own Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) legislation which was introduced to enforce and improve Australia’s occupational health and safety performances in the workplace. The legislation defines a fleet managed vehicle to be a workplace; however it has been established that personal safety continues to be compromised particularly in the motor vehicle Fleet Management Industry.

Fleet or company managed motor vehicles represent approximately one third of all motor vehicles on our roads. Employers, employees and contractors have a duty to do everything ‘reasonable practicable’ to protect the health and safety of others in the workplace and also toward non employees.

Fleet Managers must be acutely aware of their lawful obligations to maintain compliance within OHS legislation when providing and or managing motor vehicles for others in the general work force. However it is becoming more evident that fleet managers are becoming extremely more negligent by continually failing to uphold their legal responsibilities and provide adequate ‘Duty of Care’ to fleet vehicle drivers.

A ‘Duty of Care’ is defined by the Industrial Commission as, Work, Health and Safety, Report No. 47, Sept 1995: as,

‘Duty of Care’ requires everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to be done to protect the health and safety of others at the workplace. This duty is placed on:
  • All employers
  • Their employees
  • Any others who have an influence on the hazards in a workplace.

The later includes contractors and those who design, manufacture, import, supply or install plant, equipment or materials used in the workplace.

Whilst the requirements of the law vary to determine ‘Reasonably Practicable’ this must be assessed with the degree of risk in a particular activity or environment and be balanced against time, trouble and cost of taking measures to control risk.

This qualification allows those responsible to meet their duty of care at the lowest possible cost however usually requires for changes in technology and knowledge to be introduced into the work place. The duty holder must show that it was not ‘reasonably practicable’ to do more than what was done or that they have taken ‘reasonable’ precautions and exercised due diligence.

Specific rights and duties logically flow from the duty of care, not withstanding other responsibilities but in particular, for the provision and maintenance of safe plant and equipment and systems of work.

The likelihood of Fleet Managers not maintaining an adequate ‘Duty of Care’ or equally breaching OH&S legislation is most apparent after smash repairs have been conducted to fleet managed vehicles. Fleet managers believe they do the ‘right thing’ by handing the administration of the collision repairs into the control of their insurer unfortunately, it is the naivety of the Fleet Manager’s or Company Directors of the collision repair process where they fall foul and become implicated with negligence.

It is at this point where an apportionment of contributing negligence is levied toward the Fleet Manager and also to the company director.

Statistics are freely available from many accredited road safety organisations confirming a high percentage of fleet leased or company owned vehicles are not maintained as regularly or are driven with the same degree of caution as owner driver vehicles. Subsequently these vehicles are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle collisions inflicting injuries to third party persons.

In their May 2006 journal Volume 88, the VACC (Victoria’s Automobile Chamber of Commerce) quoted ‘the most common mechanism of injury in the workplace was motor vehicle accidents. (71 fatalities - 34% of claims)’

More evidence is emerging to link negligence with fleet managers where they soon can expect to receive a barrage of defects from authorities and expensive ‘contributing negligence’ suits from drivers who have sustained injuries from vehicles they manage or provide for use.

To rectify existing OHS breaches and to avoid future contributing negligence action initiating, Fleet Managers can better protect themselves simply by having all post collision repaired motor vehicles in their control inspected for collision crashworthiness with an IVIC ‘Structural Tolerance Report’.

Should any fleet managed vehicle fail the IVIC ‘Structural Tolerance Report’ the Company / Fleet Manager has an immediate right to the correct remedial repairs usually at no extra cost. IVIC can assist with this process if required.

(See http://www.atsb.gov.au/publications/2003/pdf/eval_fleetsafe.pdf for further relevant information)