What’s the difference between an office, a home office and a car used for work purposes?
Nothing according to health and safety laws. Creating a safe workplace is a legal requirement and a workplace is defined as a place where work is carried out for a business or undertaking and includes any place where a worker goes, or is likely to be, while at work; including a motor vehicle.
Over the last 18 months, Australian companies were forced to move employees from the office into their homes as rolling lockdowns swept across the nation. In response, they have conducted virtual ergonomic assessments and purchased new office equipment to keep staff productive.
It’s not enough to give permission to work from home; or drive a private vehicle for work. An employer’s liability extends beyond consent. They need to provide a safe workplace in the office; in the home; and on the road.
Vision Australia is one organisation that takes the same approach to employee safety in every workplace situation. With 800 staff nationally and only 158 company vehicles, they know that some staff and volunteers will use private vehicles for work. So they have implemented a grey fleet policy to capture the activity and manage the risk.
Caroline Smith, Property Portfolio Manager at Vision Australia, explained that there’s no grey in the workplace safety law. Any trip, no matter how short, or how often, for business makes the car a workplace.
“Any journey for work in a car and the liability rests with the employer,” says Smith. “Most businesses accept this for fleet cars though many do not know how many trips are happening in private vehicles.”
When Vision Australia starting discussing this issue with staff they knew about 60 grey fleet drivers. Now they have 158 registered on the cloud-based Plumtree Driver & Fleet Management system provided by Plumfleet which captures information on the vehicle, and requires drivers to provide regular updates on maintenance, insurance and registration.
Plumtrees’ ‘Grey Fleet & Driver Management’ module enables employers to operationalise vital WHS/OHS requirements of their Fleet Policy and engage staff and volunteers in an ongoing compliance process to ensure the ‘fit to drive’ status of both the driver and their grey fleet vehicle.
“There’s no minimum distance or frequency, as soon as they get in their own car for work we require our staff to be registered on our system,” says Smith.
“We previously used a paper based system which involved once-off employee declarations. The management acknowledged that this wasn’t sufficient enough to demonstrate that it was meeting the obligations for workplace safety,” said Smith.
It’s difficult for organisations to identify grey fleet vehicles without embracing their obligations and actively engaging with employees about potential risks.
A good place to start is with employees (including volunteers) that are already claiming travel expenses or being paid a car allowance. This will provide an indication of the roles within the organisation that are mobile. Then, through discussions, people that claim through the ATO rather than the business can be identified as part of the grey fleet.
“It can be a sensitive issue for some people depending on their situation because we require them to share information on their vehicle including the insurance policy and maintenance history,” says Smith. “And we also ask for information on infringements.”
Ensuring all stakeholders across the business are aware of the risks posed by grey fleet, the reasons for collecting the information, and how it’s used will increase engagement with the policy.
“Grey fleet is now part of our safety culture,” confirms Smith. “The Vision Australia senior management are embracing their obligation to keep people safe which encourages all team members to be more open about their use of private vehicles and more compliant with the policy.”