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All things Pharma

Rep on the highway

 

Being a healthcare sales professional places demands on your ability to negotiate routes, drive and park safely. Now, as Steve Johnson of the Fleet Safety Association explains, new legislation makes safety on the road a still higher priority.

The car is now an essential business tool that is effectively, if not formally in law, an extension of the workplace. As far as the UK Health and Safety Executive is concerned, the duty of care that all employers have for their staff’s welfare in the workplace extends to driving for work purposes.

Depending on which set of Government figures you believe, somewhere between 800 and 1000 drivers are killed ‘at work’ every year on Britain’s roads, and in excess of 8000 are seriously injured. The circumstances of every road fatality will now be investigated by the police as a matter of course, as if it were a criminal investigation. If it is felt that any contributory factor to the crash relates to the employer’s policies, procedures or general business management, the police will investigate further.

The implications, particularly for any wellknown and successful brand, should send a shiver down the collective spine of all those in senior management.

New road safety legislation

Though legislation is currently in place (see www.fleetsafetyassociation.co.uk/ Legislation.asp) to bring about a successful prosecution in the event of corporate failings, the situation is about to become still more serious with the introduction of the 2006 Road Safety Bill. From a vehicle fleet point of view, there are several new penalties that could impact on your business:
• A new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving will carry a custodial sentence of up to five years.
• The penalty for careless or inconsiderate driving increases from £2500 to £5000. • Using a hand-held phone while driving and, as a result, failing to have proper control of the vehicle will attract three penalty points and a £60 fixed penalty fine.
• There will be graduated fines for speeding offences, depending on the actual vehicle speed recorded within a specific distance (though the parameters for these have yet to be finalised).

Although it is obviously the individual driver who will be most directly affected by these punitive measures, potentially there will be a negative impact on the business as a result. It is therefore vital that companies managing drivers have robust policies in place that demonstrate to any investigating authority that they have taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk that employees are exposed to.

At the least, this should comprise a set of guidelines that are issued to every driver so that employees know exactly what is expected of them when driving. This could be a hard copy driving manual or a document in electronic form on a company intranet. Either way, it is vital that the employee signs for it, or at least commits to having read and understood the contents.

Driver risk management

All members of the Fleet Safety Association are able to provide help, advice and even document templates to meet these requirements; but some commercial sectors, by virtue of their operating conditions, require additional specific advice. One company that specialises in the healthcare sales sector is Bloxham-based Drive & Survive, which has in place driver risk management programmes for about a dozen different healthcare-orientated companies.  Although the type of driving-related risk that employees of healthcare companies are exposed to is comparable with the majority of other commercial organisations, there are quite a few special considerations to take into account. For instance, it is necessary to be aware of the threatening behaviour of certain animal rights activists towards healthcare representatives, and there are ways to anticipate certain vehicle-related actions they might take. Drivers carrying high-value items of medical equipment are clearly a target also, and they need to remain vigilant both while driving and while parked.

Managers must take a responsible attitude to what is achievable in a working day that involves driving. Fatigue is now a major contributory cause of crashes for business drivers, and they should be able to take at least a 15- minute break every two hours without feeling guilty.

While advice for dealing with these scenarios is accommodated within Drive & Survive courses, there is plenty of other guidance to ensure that healthcare representatives – who arguably use their cars as an extension of the office more than anyone else – avoid trouble:

Mobile phones. Despite it being illegal anyway, employers should mandate that the use of hand-held phones while driving is a disciplinary offence. Even using a mobile phone with a legal hands-free kit is equivalent to being over the drink-drive limit in terms of effect on driving, so usage should be restricted to emergencies – and even then only when road conditions are very low-risk (motorway, light traffic, good weather, out of rush hour).

Hours of work. Managers must take a responsible attitude to what is achievable in a working day that involves driving. The act of driving takes a far greater toll on the body, both physiologically and mentally, than working in an office, and a realistic number of calls to customers must be agreed. Fatigue is now a major contributory cause of crashes for business drivers, and they should be able to take at least a 15-minute break every two hours without feeling guilty.

Journey planning. There is no substitute for proper journey planning using a map, weather forecasts and traffic predictions. In-vehicle information systems should be used with great care to reduce potential distraction, and never adjusted while on the move. Drivers should be permitted to use overnight accommodation if delayed for any reason.

Drink and drugs. Nobody is suggesting that those working in the healthcare industry are any worse than the rest of the driving population – but this market sector does tend to attract young, ambitious high achievers with a zest for life, so it stands to reason that some will take a chance with the ‘morning after’ effect. Again, such behaviour should be flagged as being totally unacceptable and subject to disciplinary action.

Choice of vehicle. In the healthcare sales sector, the choice of vehicle can have a significant effect on the potential for becoming involved in a road incident. High-value, highperformance cars seem to be an essential ingredient of a tempting package to attract the best-qualified staff. Often the blend of a powerful car and an ambitious, single-minded high achiever can create a potent cocktail, and this invariably leads them to be designated as highrisk. Companies really should target this group for some form of preventative training if they are going to avoid profit-denting outcomes.

The endless road

If employers look after the welfare of their drivers, they will be protecting a vital incomeearning asset and potentially their brand reputation. Also, any road safety programme delivered by a member of the Fleet Safety Association will be not only effective but also self-funding in terms of the consequent savings on fuel, insurance outgoings and general wear and tear. It really is a classic ‘win-win’ situation.


 
Steve Johnson is Press Officer of the Fleet Safety Association and Marketing Manager of Drive & Survive. For more information, visit www.fleetsafetyassociation.co.uk.

 

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