Managing the Risk of Vehicles as a Workplace: Your Guide to Workplace Health and Safety in Australia
According to Safe Work Australia’s Key WHS Statistics Australia 2020, the leading cause of work-related fatalities in Australia is the use of vehicles. In 2019, there were 79 fatalities resulting from vehicle collisions, which accounted for 43% of all work-related fatalities. The report also indicates that there were 2,660 serious claims filed due to vehicle collisions in 2018-19.
A vehicle as a workplace refers to any type of vehicle that is used for work purposes, and which therefore presents potential risks to worker health and safety. This can include company-owned vehicles, private vehicles used for work purposes, hire or lease vehicles, and public transport vehicles such as buses and taxis. Person Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) have a duty of care to ensure the safety of workers who use these vehicles for work purposes, and must take steps to identify and manage potential risks associated with their use.
The leading cause of work-related fatalities in Australia is the use of vehicles.
Law Related to Vehicles as a Workplace
As a business owner, ensuring the safety of your employees is crucial. This includes employees who operate vehicles in the workplace. There are various laws and regulations governing workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia, and it’s important to understand how they apply to vehicles in the workplace.
Australian laws related to workplace health and safety and vehicles as a workplace include:
- WHS Law: WHS law in Australia is designed to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of workers and others in the workplace. As a PCBU, you have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your employees and others who may be affected by the work being carried out. This includes ensuring a safe work environment, safe use of plant and equipment, and providing employees with necessary information, training, and supervision to perform their work safely.
- Road Traffic Law: Road traffic law regulates the use of vehicles on public roads and highways. This includes laws related to vehicle registration, driver licensing, speed limits, traffic signals, and road rules. These laws are designed to promote road safety and reduce the risk of accidents and injuries on public roads.
- NHVR Law: The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is responsible for regulating heavy vehicles in Australia. NHVR law applies to vehicles with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of more than 4.5 tonnes or vehicles designed to carry more than 12 passengers, including the driver. Under NHVR law, heavy vehicle operators have a duty of care to ensure the safe operation of their vehicles, including compliance with vehicle standards, driver licensing and fatigue management requirements, and load restraint regulations.
Who Has a Duty of Care?
Under the WHS laws, a PCBU has a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their workers, as well as other people who may be affected by their work. This includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and other road users. Employers must take steps to eliminate or minimise the risks associated with using vehicles as a workplace.
It is important to note that outsourcing vehicle operations to contractors or to employees themselves does not remove the obligation of the PCBU to provide a safe workplace.
What about the types of Vehicles a PCBU is Accountable for?
Business owners are responsible for ensuring that vehicles are safe and fit for purpose.
As mentioned earlier, a PCBU has a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers and others affected by the work, which includes those who use vehicles for work purposes. In terms of the specific types of vehicles that a PCBU is accountable for, this can vary depending on the nature of the work being undertaken.
The scope of your organisation’s WHS responsibility for vehicles will depend on the type of vehicles used and how they are used. Some examples of vehicles that organisations may have WHS responsibility for include:
- Company-owned vehicles: If a PCBU owns a vehicle that is used for work purposes, such as a delivery van or company car, they are responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is safe and fit for purpose and that workers are trained and competent in its use.
- Private vehicles used for work purposes: If workers use their own vehicles for work purposes, such as travelling between work sites or making deliveries, the PCBU still has a duty of care to ensure their safety. This may include providing training and guidance on safe driving practices, and ensuring that the vehicle is maintained and roadworthy.
- Vehicles owned, leased or hired by the organisation for private use: These vehicles are used in the course of work (for example vehicles included in salary packaging arrangements). The PCBU is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is safe and fit for purpose and that workers are trained and competent in its use.
- Vehicles owned or leased by the worker for work purposes (known as grey fleet vehicles): While grey fleet vehicles are not owned by the PCBU, they still have a duty of care to ensure the safety of workers who use them for work purposes. This may include providing guidance on safe driving practices, ensuring that the vehicle is maintained and roadworthy, and ensuring that workers are properly licensed and insured.
- Vehicles operated by other organisations: If a PCBU engages another organisation to provide a vehicle for work purposes, such as a rental car or a truck from a subcontractor, the PCBU is still responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is safe and fit for purpose and that workers are trained and competent in its use.
- Special purpose vehicles: If your organisation uses specialised vehicles, such as forklifts or cranes, it has a duty to ensure that these vehicles are safe and operated by competent and trained workers. This may include regular maintenance and inspection, as well as implementing policies and procedures for the safe operation and use of the vehicles.
- Public transport vehicles: These include trains, buses, taxis, and ride-share vehicles such as Uber or Lyft. While PCBUs may not have direct control over these vehicles, they still have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their workers when using public transport for work purposes. This may include providing guidance on safe travel practices and ensuring that workers are trained to recognise and manage potential safety hazards.
In all cases, it is important for the PCBU to undertake a risk assessment to identify and control any hazards associated with the use of vehicles as a workplace. This may include implementing appropriate controls to manage risks such as fatigue, distraction and inattention, and ensuring that workers are trained and competent in safe driving practices.
Risk Management Approach to Vehicles as a Workplace
A risk management approach is essential for managing the risks associated with using vehicles as a workplace. Here are some key steps that PCBU’s should consider:
- Identify the risks: The first step in managing risk is to identify the hazards and risks associated with the use of vehicles as a workplace. This may include conducting a risk assessment of the specific work tasks and the vehicles used in those tasks.
- Assess the risks: Once the hazards and risks have been identified, the PCBU should assess the likelihood and potential consequences of those risks, in order to determine the level of risk and prioritise actions accordingly.
- Control the risks: Once the risks have been assessed, the PCBU should implement appropriate control measures to minimise the risk of harm. This may include implementing engineering controls such as installing safety features on the vehicle, administrative controls such as training and supervision, and personal protective equipment.
- Review and monitor: It is important to regularly review and monitor the effectiveness of the control measures in place, to ensure that they are working as intended and to identify any new risks that may arise.
- Continuous improvement: Finally, PCBUs should strive for continuous improvement in their risk management approach, by regularly reviewing and updating their policies and procedures, and by learning from incidents or near-misses to prevent future occurrences.
By taking a systematic risk management approach, PCBUs can ensure that they are effectively managing the risks associated with using vehicles as a workplace and that they are providing a safe and healthy work environment for their workers.
Common Hazards Associated with Vehicles as a Workplace
Employers should ensure that vehicles are maintained appropriately.
It is essential to understand the risks associated with vehicles as a workplace. Here are some common hazards associated with vehicles as a workplace:
- Inadequate journey planning: This refers to not properly planning and preparing for a journey, which can result in a number of hazards such as fatigue, lack of appropriate rest stops, and lack of appropriate communication with others. Employers should ensure that workers plan and prepare for their journeys in advance, taking into account factors such as the route to be taken, the timing of the journey, and any potential hazards that may be encountered.
- Roads providing inadequate protection: This hazard refers to roads that are not designed or maintained appropriately, leading to risks such as poor visibility, inadequate barriers, and poor road surfaces. Employers should ensure that vehicles are only used on roads that are suitable for their purpose and that are maintained appropriately. Workers should also be trained to recognize and report hazards on the road.
- Vehicles providing inadequate protection: This hazard refers to vehicles that are not designed or maintained appropriately, leading to risks such as inadequate seat belts, inadequate rollover protection, and inadequate visibility. Employers should ensure that vehicles are maintained appropriately and that they are equipped with appropriate safety features. Workers should also be trained to recognise and report hazards in their vehicles.
- Speed in excess of safe exposure thresholds: This hazard refers to driving at excessive speeds that are not safe for the road conditions or the vehicle being driven. Employers should establish speed limits for their workers and ensure that they are followed. Workers should also be trained in safe driving practices and the appropriate speed for different road conditions.
- Unauthorised drivers: This hazard refers to workers who are not authorised or qualified to operate a vehicle. Employers should ensure that only authorised and qualified workers are allowed to operate vehicles and that workers are trained and tested appropriately before being authorised to operate a vehicle.
- Unsafe drivers: This hazard refers to workers who do not have the appropriate skills, knowledge, or attitudes to safely operate a vehicle. Employers should ensure that workers are trained in safe driving practices and that they follow these practices while operating a vehicle. Workers should also be monitored for unsafe driving practices and provided with feedback and coaching as needed.
- Non-use or misuse of personal protective equipment: This hazard refers to workers who do not use or misuse personal protective equipment, such as high-visibility clothing or hard hats while operating a vehicle. Employers should ensure that workers are provided with appropriate personal protective equipment and that they are trained in its proper use.
- Alcohol and drugs: This hazard refers to workers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a vehicle, which can impair judgment, reaction time, and coordination. Employers should implement drug and alcohol policies that prohibit workers from operating a vehicle while under the influence and provide education and support programs to help workers manage addiction and substance abuse.
- Fatigue: This hazard refers to workers who are excessively tired or overworked, which can lead to decreased alertness, slower reaction times, and impaired decision-making. Employers should implement fatigue management strategies, such as providing adequate breaks and rest periods, limiting shift lengths, and avoiding work during times when workers are typically sleeping.
- Distraction and inattention: This hazard refers to workers who are distracted or not paying attention while operating a vehicle, which can lead to accidents and injuries. Employers should educate workers on the risks of distraction and inattention while driving, and implement policies that prohibit the use of mobile phones, eating, drinking, and other activities that can distract drivers.
- Immaturity and inexperience: This hazard refers to workers who are young or inexperienced, which can lead to risky driving behaviours and a lack of knowledge of safe driving practices. Employers should ensure that young or inexperienced workers receive appropriate training and supervision before operating a vehicle, and implement policies that restrict the type of vehicles they can operate based on their age and experience level.
- Inadequate post-crash responses: This hazard refers to workers who are not trained or equipped to respond appropriately to a crash or other emergency situation. Employers should ensure that workers are trained in emergency response procedures and that appropriate equipment is available for responding to emergencies. Workers should also be provided with support and counselling following a crash or other traumatic event.
It is important to note the list of hazards outlined above is not exhaustive and the risk assessment process outlined previously should be conducted to identify all risks. By addressing hazards, employers can help ensure the safety of their workers while operating vehicles for work.
Controls to Consider
It’s essential to implement appropriate controls to ensure the safety of employees who operate vehicles in the workplace. Here are some controls to consider:
- Fit for purpose: Ensuring that the vehicle used for a particular task is appropriate for that task. This control involves assessing the suitability of the vehicle for the intended use and making sure that it is in good working order.
- Driver training and competency: Ensuring that drivers are properly trained and competent to operate the vehicle is an essential control. This may include providing training on safe driving practices, as well as specific training on the particular vehicle being used.
- Vehicle maintenance: Regular maintenance of the vehicle is also an important control. This includes ensuring that the vehicle is properly maintained and serviced to reduce the risk of breakdowns or malfunctions while on the road.
- Journey management: Journey management involves planning and managing the route that the vehicle will take, as well as the timing of the journey. This can help to reduce the risk of fatigue, as well as ensure that the vehicle is not being driven in dangerous conditions.
- Fatigue management: Fatigue is a major risk for drivers who use vehicles as a workplace. Fatigue management controls include setting appropriate work hours, taking regular breaks, and ensuring that drivers have adequate rest periods.
- Policies and Procedures: Policies and procedures are an important control measure for managing the risks associated with vehicles in the workplace. They provide clear guidance to workers on safe work practices and help ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities when it comes to operating vehicles safely.
It is important to note that the list of controls outlined above is not exhaustive and that there may be additional controls that are required depending on the specific circumstances of the work. It is important to seek professional advice and conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to ensure that all risks are identified and appropriately managed.
It’s important to note that the most effective risk management strategies usually involve a combination of controls. For example, a company may use a combination of engineering controls (e.g., installing reversing cameras), administrative controls (e.g., developing a safe driving policy), and PPE (e.g., high-visibility clothing) to manage the risks associated with using vehicles as a workplace.
Managing the risk of vehicles in the workplace is crucial to ensure the health and safety of workers and others affected by the work. The use of vehicles in the workplace poses significant risks, and there are various laws and regulations governing workplace health and safety in Australia that must be considered. PCBUs have a duty of care to ensure that workers are safe when using vehicles for work purposes. The scope of the organisation’s WHS responsibility for vehicles will depend on the type of vehicles used and how they are used. A risk assessment must be conducted to identify and control any hazards associated with the use of vehicles as a workplace. Ultimately, it is important for businesses to prioritise the safety of their employees and take appropriate steps to manage the risks associated with vehicles in the workplace.
- SafeWork QLD – Vehicle as a Workplace National Guide
- SafeWork Australia – Model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks
- National Heavy Vehicle Regulator – About Fatigue Management
- WorkSafe NZ – How to Manage Work Risks
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