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Essex County Council - new 'Business Champion'

14 April 2010

Essex County Council's safe-driving focus rewarded with Government 'Business Champion' status.

Implementation of a comprehensive occupational road risk management strategy coupled with a targeted drive to reduce vehicle use has resulted in Essex County Council becoming the latest organisation to achieve ‘business champion’ status from the Government-backed ‘Driving for Better Business’ campaign.

The campaign is delivered by RoadSafe and the authority is the 42nd organisation to become a ‘business champion’, which are used to promote the financial, legal and moral reasons for organisations across the public and private sectors to invest in at-work driving safety.

Chelmsford-headquartered Essex County Council runs a fleet of 855 vehicles including cars (580 employees run a vehicle under the authority’s lease car scheme), car-derived vans, light commercial vehicles, HGVs, purpose-built vehicles such as mobile libraries, passenger-carrying vehicles, buses, coaches and plant and equipment.

The council also has approximately 7,000 employees who drive their own cars on business - the so-called ‘grey fleet’ - although the authority encourages employees to use public transport and other options such as teleconferencing where more practical and cost effective.

There are an estimated up to 200 road deaths and serious injuries a week resulting from crashes involving at work drivers, and more employees are killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads while driving on behalf of their employer than in any other work-related activity.

Against that background there is an ever-tightening legislative crackdown from Government, which is enforced by both the police and Health and Safety Executive and is aimed at reducing the toll of work-related road crashes.

As well as having launched its own comprehensive Driving Standards Code of Practice, the council is working with local businesses to help them manage their occupational road risk. This includes offering a number of solutions aimed at policy makers, fleet managers, and directors such as ‘Driving for Better Business’ seminars, HGV and PSV operator seminars, business day events aimed at drivers at company premises and workshops on individual work-related road safety topics.

The council is only the sixth local authority to receive ‘business champion’ status under the campaign. County councillor Norman Hume, cabinet member for highways and transportation said: “We are delighted that the safe-driving initiatives we have launched within the council and in the wider business community have been recognised by the campaign.

“Essex County Council realises that it needs to be proactive when managing the occupational road risk for employees. When a specific risk is identified, the county will run training or group talks/sessions for those who are targeted by the specific risk. Once the risk has been reduced for this target group then the information will be disseminated to all employees.

“Managing work-related road safety to its full extent is a mammoth task, which in an ever-changing environment takes time, commitment and implementing quick wins, in addition to long-term goals to continue reducing the risks.”

However, already the council has seen benefits with the number of crashes involving its lease car scheme drivers reducing from 241 in 2005 to 164 last year and the number of insurance claims dropping to 101 in 2009/10 from a peak of 133 in 2005/6.

Simultaneously own damage costs paid (third party fire and theft basis) in 2005/6 totalled more than £19,700 but latest figures show they have reduced to almost £5,400.

All lease car scheme drivers must complete a half-day driver training course, which was introduced with the aim of reducing insurance claims. The scheme is now compulsory for both the main driver and named drivers such as spouse or offspring who hold a full licence.

Cllr Hume said: “The council is continuously working hard to reduce the number of accidents that our employees are having. The benefits are financial but also include enhanced public image, higher staff morale and motivation, reduced staff absences and overall improved business performance.”

The Code is closely related to the council’s Staff Travel Plan, which aims to encourage sustainable travel by offering employees a range of options to consider for commuting and business travel. These options include:

  • Teleconferencing facilities
  • A borrow a brolley scheme - short term umbrella loan to encourage walking
  • A selection of pool bikes to use for off-site visits
  • Cycle parking at most council offices
  • An interest-free bike loan scheme
  • Public transport season ticket loans
  • A car sharing scheme with free car sharing parking spaces available

Launch of the Code has so far delivered:

  • A 3% saving on the council’s commercial fleet reduction programme
  • An 8% reduction in spot/pool hires
  • A 2% increase in car sharing
  • A 3% increase in teleconferencing

However, the council is looking to increase those numbers and by 2012 is aiming for a 15% reduction in its car fleet and a 10% reduction in ‘grey fleet’ use, and by 2015 a 10 % reduction in its commercial fleet.

As part of the Code the council has issued policy statements in addition to advice and guidance on key driving issues including: alcohol and drugs use, driver convictions and penalties, eyesight, fatigue, illness and stress, fitness to drive, incident reporting, journey planning, mobile phones, speeding, vehicle maintenance and roadworthiness and driving in adverse weather conditions.

Drivers who use their vehicles for council business must ensure they are insured for business use, have a valid vehicle tax disc, a current MOT certificate if necessary and are serviced and maintained at the recommended intervals. The documents are required to be shown on a six-monthly basis and random spot checks may be made.

In other measures the council has introduced:

  • A UK familiarisation driver training course which since September last year has been taken by 35 employees
  • Daily maintenance checks and defect reporting on owned or leased council vehicles
  • An assessment test to be taken by drivers of all council-owned vehicles with a refresher after four years
  • A pilot of the Office of Government Commerce’s recently launched five-step process to reduce ‘grey fleet’ use
  • A pilot training workshop targeting employees who are under 25 years of age and required to drive on council business with a view to rolling the workshop out to local businesses in 2010/11.

Caroline Scurr, director of the ‘Driving for Better Business’ campaign, said: “Local authorities have a crucial role to play in reducing work-related road crashes. Not only are they major employers in their own right and therefore must have robust safe driving strategies in place, but they can also influence local public and private sector organisations to follow their lead.

“Essex County Council has demonstrated leadership on both counts. Recruitment to the ‘Driving for Better Business’ campaign means that the policies and procedures it has implemented are ones that we would recommend that all public and private sector businesses follow to ensure they have an auditable safe-driving strategy in place in the event of a vehicle being involved in a road crash.”

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