What is the employer's duty of care towards company drivers?

Fleet managers are probably aware there is a legal obligation called a duty of care to ensure employees are kept safe on the roads.

It is important to identify and manage hazards in the 'workplace,' a term with a broad definition that includes being inside the company car.

Road transport safety is a priority for the government because of the high number of injuries and fatalities on the road.

There are around 1,500 fatalities every year on Australian roads, according to the RACV.

While each state has its own OH&S requirements, they all impose a duty on the employer to follow all practicable steps to keep their workers safe and healthy.

There is no legislated length of time or number of kilometres that employees can drive before needing a break - unless they are driving heavy machinery - so it is the employer's responsibility to ensure drivers are not spending too much time on the road. This is especially true if the weather conditions are not ideal or if the driving is done at night.

The employer must take into account the length of time the employee has worked that day, as well as the amount of heavy labour or emotionally draining work they have done, if this is appropriate in the circumstances.

Driver fatigue has become one of the leading causes of accidents on Australian roads, with experts claiming it is the cause of around 20 - 30 per cent of all fatal road crashes, according to the Australian Safety Transport Bureau.

The employer should also factor in the speed limits of the planned route and not impose unreasonable time limits to get to appointments, to ensure the employee does not feel the need to speed.

The type of vehicle is also an important consideration for the fleet manager to think about. It is the employer's duty to ensure the fleet is safe and roadworthy. Managers may get some peace of mind on this matter if they regularly get fleet maintenance services and give drivers info about the safety features of their cars.

Employers must also give their employees sufficient and correct information about how the safety features of the vehicle and about the causes and effects of fatigue. Employers must provide training on safety.

Although drivers are responsible for getting their own licences organised, it is the manager's role to ensure they have the correct and up to date licences for the work they are doing.