Your role in the chain of responsibility for vehicle safetyFleet Management
Where do your responsibilities begin and end when it comes to your vehicles and people driving their vehicles on your company’s business? If you are going to look after your staff and minimise risk to your company, you need to understand your chain of responsibility.
The concept of Chain of Responsibility (CoR) might be new to you. But it is an area that all HR, fleet managers and vehicle professionals must be familiar with. The NZTA offers very useful guidance that makes the breadth of your responsibilities clear:
“The chain of responsibility holds that all the people who influence drivers’ behaviour and compliance should, and must, be held accountable if that influence results in non-compliance with traffic rules and laws.”
Responsibility extends beyond compliance with road rules and laws too. You might not be driving a vehicle yourself but that doesn’t mean the occupational, health and safety requirements for the vehicles driven by your company staff and contractors are someone else’s problem.
Managers’ obligations are very broad. They span a wide spectrum from the condition of your vehicles to the way they’re loaded, the process for keeping maintenance records and even the health of the person behind the wheel.
What is CoR?
One of the biggest difficulties in understanding the concept of Chain of Responsibility is where to begin. Craig Porter, National Commercial Vehicles and Aftersales Manager for LeasePlan Australia and New Zealand, suggests coming at CoR from a safety angle.
“The name itself explains exactly what it is,” says Craig. “Picture a chain, and always bear in mind the old truism that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s exactly what Chain of Responsibility is about.”
“Picture a chain, and always bear in mind the old truism that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
The focus of CoR is the owner, the driver and public safety. In the past, the onus of responsibility was placed on the owner (who was usually the driver). As best-practice principles in logistics and transport industries have changed – along with vehicle and equipment leasing options – placing the responsibility for anything that goes wrong on the owner alone has become problematic and unfair.
There are multiple parties involved in getting people and goods from point A to point B. And every link in that chain is accountable for enabling the driver to their job safely and legally.
Let’s use trucking as an example of how CoR works in safety…
Loading the vehicle
There are multiple touchpoints in a truck’s CoR journey. All of them could affect the safety or reliability of the truck, the driver and anybody near it when it’s on the road.
As Craig Porter explains, “If the people who load the truck haven’t balanced the load and secured it properly to stop it from shifting while it’s in transit, then they’re putting the driver and that truck at risk.”
Each axle on any truck has an independent load limit. So, for instance, positioning too much weight at the front of a truck may overload the front steering axle. That’s not just dangerous. It’s illegal.
Scheduling the vehicle
Achievable delivery timeframes are also a key link in the CoR. Schedulers need to consider the expected time from pick-up to the delivery point for any given truck and its driver.
“If the scheduler sees that you’re 75-kilometres from your next point but wants you to be there in one hour – and you’ve got to go through an urban or built-up area to get there – then that may be an unrealistic timeframe,” observes Craig.
A delivery schedule that requires drivers to meet unrealistic expectations could push the driver to exceed speed limits. This, then, endangers the safety of the driver and those sharing the road with that vehicle.
The culture and work philosophy of a workplace may not have an obvious impact on CoR but it is as important as more immediate elements.
“Someone may not be working on something that’s directly related to the truck, but it does relate to the safety of the vehicle. And that’s where the chain of responsibility piece comes into play,” says Craig.
- Has the driver had ample rest before they’ve gotten in behind the wheel? While getting sleep might be the responsibility of the driver, the impact of timetabling and shift planning, etc. on opportunities for rest mean it’s also an employer responsibility.
- Was that driver involved in loading the vehicle? Loading a vehicle is not considered ‘rest time’ – it’s part of their job.
- Is the driver under the influence of illegal and/or prescription drugs or alcohol, and is their mental health okay?
The driver must communicate safety concerns. But it is also up to the workplace itself to foster a culture that prioritises safety ahead of encouraging or condoning irresponsible practices.
Risks associated with “grey fleets”
Grey fleets are personal vehicles used by employees to perform their job responsibilities. Often, the employee is reimbursed on a cents-per-kilometre basis.
According to Greg Maimur, Commercial Director at LeasePlan Australia and New Zealand, use of grey fleets can cause many problems and expose your company to many CoR-related risks.
“LeasePlan’s research into grey fleets found that, in the majority of instances, employers and business didn’t want to enter into any long-term or standing agreements to lease vehicles because they didn’t want to incur the cost,” says Greg. “For those employers, it was actually easier and – in their eyes – arguably cheaper just to provide a car allowance or a cent-per-kilometre rebate.”
“But, when we calculated the numbers, what we saw were a couple of things,” Greg continues. “In many cases, the cent per kilometre rebate didn’t properly cover the cost of running and maintaining the vehicle. Then, as the car got older, it would eventually have to be replaced, which means that cent per kilometre rebate was often insufficient to cover the cost of changing over vehicles.”
With companies using grey fleets, maintenance standards can be almost non-existent.
“The drivers just don’t realise how many kilometres they’re racking up, the wear and tear on the car, and the roadworthiness of the car,” says Greg. “That’s where the employer might be at risk – the car is actually a workplace environment that the employer is contributing towards but neither maintaining nor managing.”
Many questions often remain unanswered in grey fleet management:
- Are the drivers operating the vehicle safely?
- Has their physical and mental health been checked?
- Do they have good eyesight or are they colour blind?
- Do they have a current drivers’ licence?
- Do they have demerit points on their licence or a history of traffic offences?
- Is the car roadworthy?
- Is the car adequately insured?
- Are you able to measure and manage the vehicles carbon footprint?
While it might seem easier to opt for a cents-per-kilometre rebate, in many cases, it is an inadequate arrangement. Indeed, asking an employee to use their private vehicle for work purposes, without fully addressing their safety needs, isn’t acceptable practice.
CoR should be front-of-mind for transport companies and any fleet manager responsible for providing vehicles for employee use.
“At LeasePlan, we see many, many customers who can’t tell us when their vehicle was last serviced or whether it was serviced by a qualified technician or whether it was serviced in accordance to the manufacturer’s expectations for ongoing maintenance,” says Graig.
Consider a vehicle due for a routine fuel and oil filter change, warrant of fitness or certificate of fitness:
- Do you create and follow a service plan for your vehicles?
- Is the vehicle being serviced as per the plan or is it overdue for servicing?
- Do you or your mechanical service provider have the technology to assess the vehicle properly and download fault codes that manufacturers make available?
- Do you have a complete history of the vehicle?
- Is the person signing the service invoice a registered mechanic?
- Is the dealership certified to complete required repairs?
There are a lot of factors to manage around servicing your vehicles and those factors are just a few of the considerations that need to be considered for CoR.
“I think the argument can be made under work, health and safety that there’s still an obligation… to provide a safe workplace,” concludes Craig. “Which means, at LeasePlan, we’re playing our role in helping our customers to do that.”
Talk to a SG Fleet / LeasePlan consultant to learn how we can help you understand and manage your CoR obligations.