Fleet managers have all sorts of responsibilities and roles regarding their company vehicles, from financing and training drivers to tracking and coordinating. Every day they juggle all the different elements to keep a whole fleet moving in the right direction. But no one aspect is as important or critical as vehicle maintenance and roadworthiness. Business vehicles make up a massive proportion of the traffic on the roads, with figures from independent analyst Berg Insight suggesting the number of fleet management units deployed in commercial fleets in Europe is around 4 million, so it is vital that they are well cared for and kept in a roadworthy condition. Whether the fleet is an average local gas fitting company, a national logistics firm or an emergency services team, the vehicles must be safe to drive and take to the roads each and every time.
Within the fleet manager’s role regarding ensuring vehicles are maintained in a roadworthy condition there are all sorts of aspects, and all sorts of legalities. It is not enough to rely on a regular maintenance process – best practice for the roadworthiness of fleet vehicles includes effective management of the system, training and communicating with drivers, and an amount of skill and assessment.
What are the legal requirements?
Health and safety law applies to work on the road in the same way as if work was being carried out in a warehouse or office and the risks to drivers and others must be managed.
Employers have duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which states that they must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all employees while at work. They must also ensure others are not put at risk by the company’s work-related driving activities.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also apply, and these require employers to manage health and safety measures effectively, including carrying out assessments and consulting with employees or their safety representatives.
In fleet management the Road Traffic Act and the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, administered by the police and agencies such as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), must also be adhered to. In cases of serious fleet management failures the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can get involved.
Employers can be prosecuted for driver injuries or deaths while that person is driving for work, or if another person is injured or killed because of problems with vehicles, so the fleet manager’s role towards roadworthiness is a very serious one.
What do fleet managers need to do?
The importance of maintaining a roadworthy fleet should not be underestimated, but making suitable arrangement is straightforward enough, and with a clear process of checks, maintenance and training there should be no cause for concern. The HSE encourages a common-sense and practical approach and urges fleet managers to make vehicle roadworthiness a part of the day-to-day running of the business.
There are three key areas:
- Vehicle inspections
- Reporting and dealing with faults (and carrying out routine maintenance)
- Training drivers
There are two types of essential inspections for assessing the roadworthiness of vehicles:
- Daily walk-around
- First-use/regular safety inspection
The daily walk-around check must be carried out by a responsible person before the vehicle is used. Usually it is the drivers who do this when starting their shift, and if they swap vehicles throughout the day they will sometimes carry out another walk-around check on their new vehicle. If this is not practical, such as when bus drivers start and finish their shifts on a bus in use at a bus stop, there is no requirement for another walk-around check, but this assumes there is a robust system in place for drivers to monitor their vehicle while it is in use and can report any faults.
Regular safety inspections are essential and should take place separate to routine maintenance and repair work. This allows for ad hoc inspections and gives room for the inspections to be increased in frequency if necessary. They can give early indications of problems such as wear, damage or maladjustment.
A first-use inspection must be carried out on any new vehicle brought into the fleet, unless it is brand new and has undergone a recorded and comprehensive pre-delivery inspection (PDI). A vehicle that has been off the road for longer than a planned maintenance period should be treated as a first-use vehicle and inspected accordingly before being brought back into the fleet.
The frequency of regular safety inspections will vary according to factors such as:
- Age and type of vehicle
- The load it carries and operations carried out
- The environment in which it operates
- Distance and speeds travelled
Fleet managers should use their experience to assess how often the vehicles in their fleet should be inspected, and be prepared to increase or reduce frequency as necessitated by wear or damage seen. The electronic warning systems in the vehicle should not on their own be relied upon to give an indication of when the vehicle needs to be checked.
Reporting and dealing with faults (and carrying out routine maintenance)
There must be a strong system in place to report, record and deal with faults. Any and all defects must be reported in the proper way, and they must be effectively dealt with – this too needs to be noted in the vehicle’s paperwork. Routine maintenance checks, such as changing brake discs after a certain number of miles, must be carried out and recorded accordingly.
Drivers also have a legal responsibility regarding vehicle condition and reporting problems and must receive adequate training. They can be fined or prosecuted if they are considered partly or wholly responsible for the existence of any faults. All drivers should sign a letter to show they have received training and instruction and understand what is required of them.
If they are expected to carry out minor repairs, such as changing light bulbs, they must be trained in such matters, as well as in carrying out daily checks, the procedure for reporting faults, their duty to keep themselves and their vehicle safe, and so on.
Some of the key points of a good fleet roadworthiness maintenance system
- Daily checks must be carried out each day, and first-use checks as needed
- Drivers must know the system for reporting defects or problems
- Reports on problems and how they were fixed must be kept on file for at least 15 months
- Regular safety inspections must be carried out and any remedial work undertaken and recorded – a signed declaration that the vehicle is roadworthy is necessary
- Intermediate safety checks should be carried out if any faults arise that warrant a more thorough examination
- The fleet management system must ensure that vehicles not fit to be on the roads are removed from the rota and repaired
- The whole system must be monitored regularly to ensure it remains effective
- Drivers must understand their responsibilities and get the relevant training
Fleet managers should not need to continually worry about the roadworthiness of their vehicles – if the above systems are in place and adhered to by all involved then the fleet should remain in good condition and pose no major problems. With regular checks, training and comprehensive reporting, fleet vehicles will be fit to do their job, whatever is required of them.
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