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Tuesday 23 July 2019

Comment: Why the RSA 'Driving for Work' advert doesn't sit right with me

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Just because an employer is paying you to drive for work, doesn’t mean you have no responsibility for your own actions.

The Road Safety Authority's advert on 'Driving for Work' seems to suggest otherwise.

I’m batting for the other side here, but I found myself annoyed on behalf of employers after watching it for the first time this week.

"I can't be responsible for them [employees] every minute of the day," one of the actors in the advert says. The tone suggests this is not the attitude a boss should have, but f you're expected to watch employees 24/7, what is the point in having them?

The advert says if a worker is driving on the job, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure they are fully qualified and experienced enough to do so.

And that’s fair enough.

But I feel it takes the onus off employees and implies an employer should always be held accountable for the actions of their workers.

Should they ensure their staff are trained and capable to carry out a job? Sure enough.

Should they have a driving for work safety plan in place? Yes.

Should they be held liable when a fully-trained employee does something reckless of their own accord? Not in my opinion.

The ad fails to highlight that employees have a responsibility to drive in a safe manner while on the job too.

Once upon a time, employees in Ireland had very few legal rights, but in trying to strike up a balance, legislators have effectively put an elephant on the seesaw.

Employers have a duty to ensure employees' safety under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, as far as is 'reasonably practicable'. But ‘reasonably practicable’ is starting to verge on reasonably insane.

I once interviewed a transport company who paid thousands of euro for employees to undergo compulsory health and safety training.

Staff were advised not to climb up on skips when dumping rubbish during the training sessions.

A couple months later, an employee climbed up on a skip, fell off and broke their leg. They proceeded to sue the company and received a large payout - even after doing something they were trained not to do.

“Are we expected to stand beside all workers at all times?” the employer asked.

When it comes to workers driving on the job, employers are obliged to make sure the vehicles are safe and roadworthy.

They need to ensure their employees aren’t driving longer than is legally allowed.

But if a worker decides to send a few Snapchats while driving and ends up causing a fatal accident - is an employer supposed to be responsible for that too?

Should they have to tell every employee before they hit the road, “Alright Tom, make sure to send no Snapchats while driving today and no creeping on Instagram either, ya hear”? Is it at the point now where people need to receive a manual entitled ‘common sense’?

Road crashes are a leading cause of worker fatalities and it is an extremely important topic to highlight, but I felt the advert could have been presented in a more balanced manner.

We need to raise awareness about road safety, but creating an environment where an employee thinks they won't end up having to pay the price for careless driving may end up causing more accidents down the line.

If you make mistakes and someone else gets the blame for them, chances are you'll keep making them.

“The advert is shown from the employers viewpoint in the aftermath of a collision, involving an employee, while driving for work. The employers express their regret, sorrow and guilt for not having managed employee risk correctly,” the RSA said in a statement on their site.

The statement mentions nothing about an employee's responsibility to manage risk.

According to the Health and Safety Authority, "Over 14,000 road collisions between 2008 and 2011 may have been work related. The figures include as many as 4,672 vans, trucks and buses. A further 9,427 collisions involving private cars could also have been work related".

What the statistics don’t show is how many of those accidents were down to carelessness on the part of the driver, or how many were down to the employer being at fault.

Employers have a duty of care, but if we keep going the way we’re going - wrapping employees up in cotton wool - nobody will want to start up a business in Ireland, as by the time they pay for insurance, they won’t be able to afford to do so.

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