If your business runs a vehicle fleet than you're probably aware of the H&S responsibilities you have to your employees and your potential liabilities to them and other road users in an accident involving one of your vehicles. But you may not be aware that you're also potentially liable for accidents caused by vehicles used on behalf of your business, whether you own them or not.
‘Grey fleet’ is any vehicles that do not belong to the company, but which are used for business travel. This could include a privately rented vehicle or a vehicle privately owned by an employee. When they are driven on company business, often in return for a cash allowance or fuel expense, these vehicles then become considered part of the ‘grey fleet’ – and as such fall under the responsibility of the employer.
Managing that grey fleet has been a big issue in the UK for several years, but so far it's largely flown under the radar here in Ireland. However that's starting to change, with the growing use of private vehicles and an increasingly litigious environment ramping up the risks for businesses.
Because grey fleet vehicles do not belong to the company, fleet managers face a complicated set of issues when it comes to managing the safety of their fleet. Employees using their own car may be outside of the established insurance and servicing policies, meaning their vehicles are not covered for company travel. Another issue is attempting to keep track of the status of grey fleet vehicles to ensure they meet legal road requirements, including:
In addition to this, you will also need to consider the suitability of the vehicle for work purposes. This could include the age and condition, or whether the vehicle is equipped with ABS, ESP, air conditioning, and whether or not it is suitable for the journey requirements of the company.
Under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, and associated regulations, a company vehicle is defined in the Act as a place of work requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all employees while at work. Employers and employees also have a responsibility to ensure that others are not put at risk during any work-related driving activities. In practice, this means you have the same legal duty of care for grey fleet drivers as you would for those in a work supplied vehicle. What’s more, corporate manslaughter laws mean that the onus of having to prove your organisation has fulfilled its legal obligations following an incident can be a considerable burden.
As part of a best in class fleet policy your HR department should include a section in employee’s contracts of employment to cover the use of their own vehicle on business trips. Develop an action plan and implement across you organisation to ensure you are compliant with all Health & Safety Acts.
Remember Look carefully at the business trips made by your employees using their own vehicles. If an employee uses their own vehicle to go to the bank or a training course, this could still be classified as a business trip. Ensure that you review the following items within your plan as your company could be liable if the driver and vehicle were involved in a crash.