The term grey fleet has only come into the Australian lexicon in the last few years. The term refers to any vehicle used occasionally or regularly by employees for work purposes, including their own vehicles and hire-cars. It has also been variously referred to as a hidden fleet, or ghost fleet. The term grey fleet can be traced to the UK where it has been used for the last 10-15 years.
Why grey? What is grey about it? Well, it’s not like grey nomad, which refers to grey-haired people driving around Australia in their camper vans. It’s more about grey, being the colour somewhere between black and white, referring to something that isn’t clear cut, as in the more popularly understood term “grey area”.
What exactly isn’t clear cut about employees using their own vehicles for work purposes?
“The issues are really black and white as far as the treatment of a vehicle is concerned under Australian and New Zealand workplace health and safety legislation,” said Mathew Prestney, a director of Melbourne-based TR Fleet Australia, established two years ago to consult on grey fleets, and provide a grey-fleet management system DriveSafe under license from UK-based TR Fleet. “The grey issue is understanding who it applies to and how it applies to them.”
Prestney goes on to give an anecdote about an IT manager who occasionally drives to work sites in his own vehicle for appointments. The manager decides himself whether to use his own vehicle, or public transport, without consulting their employer.
The employer may not even be aware this is happening. Of course, they would be if the IT manager filed an expense claim for using their own vehicle. They would also be made aware if the vehicle and driver were involved in an accident. Use of the vehicle for work purposes, regardless of the ownership of the vehicle, would likely render the employer responsible for any claims arising out of the incident.
As the TR Fleet website says: “Few employers appreciate that the law makes no distinction between the occasional grey-fleet driver and tool-of-trade vehicle drivers. In essence, a vehicle is treated as a ‘place of work’ under the various Australian and New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety-related Acts.”
While a grey fleet in a company may have been in existence for a long time, it’s only in recent years that it has been given this categorisation.
What’s still unclear is how many grey fleet vehicles are operating in Australia.
“This is something we are trying to ascertain,” said Prestney, adding, that as a rule of thumb, “a grey fleet is likely to be at least similar in size to the organisation’s tool-of-trade fleet.”
Prestney and others say that the size of the grey fleet is likely to be much larger than that in a charitable or not-for-profit organisation where there is a greater reliance on employees and volunteers using their own vehicles.