My company has recently made several additions to the fleet of cars used by our travelling sales-people. Our sales-people need to be readily available on their mobile phones whilst on the road. I know that we might be liable if our sales people operate their phones whilst driving, but I think we should be ok if we provide our sales people with hands-free kits – am I right?!
That’s a good question and this topic has caught out a number of employers in the past.
HSE Guidelines for employers state that “health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities and the risks should be effectively managed within a health and safety system”. As a result employers are expected to assess the risks to staff when on the road and try to employ all reasonably practicable measures to reduce any risks.
An increasingly apparent risk is the use of mobile phones by staff to make or receive phone calls whilst driving in the course of their work. Research has shown that using a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving is a considerable distraction, and substantially increases the risk of the driver having an accident: drivers are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them and react more slowly.
It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. The new legislation that came into force earlier this year increased the penalties for offenders to 3 points and a £60 fine. As you correctly pointed out, it is also an offence to “cause or permit” a driver to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. Therefore, employers can be held liable as well as the individual driver if they require employees to use a hand-held phone while driving.
Unfortunately, using a hands-free phone while driving does not significantly reduce the risks. The act of using a hands-free phone creates a mental distraction and lowers drivers’ response times. Depending upon the individual circumstances, drivers could be charged with ‘failing to have proper control of their vehicle’. Employers are also liable in these circumstances if they encourage the use of hands-free phones. The penalties on conviction for such offences include heavy fines, endorsement, disqualification and, in serious cases, imprisonment.
Clearly, using mobile phones whilst driving is a practice that the Government is keen to clamp down upon. But do not despair! An effective training programme can ensure that the restrictions are obeyed without causing too much disruption to your business practices. As part of your training please ensure that your sales-people are reminded about:
the dangers of using a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving;
the company policy on mobile phone use;
the need to go to voicemail, or to switch the phone off while driving, and to stop in a safe place to check messages or to allow a passenger to use the phone;
the importance of your managers not expecting staff to make or receive calls when driving;
the legal, financial and bad PR consequences that could result from using a mobile phone while driving.
Your sales people should also be advised that best practice dictates that employees should:
never use a hand-held or hands-free phone while driving;
plan journeys so they include rest stops when messages can be checked and calls returned;
ensure their phone is switched off and can take messages while they are driving, or allow a passenger to use the phone.