Simply put, critical occupational health & safety initiatives must be mandated to protect employees, says Adam Hawes
Over the years, there have been occasions when I’ve encountered the argument that a driver safety programme should be optional or voluntary. Given the extra corporate hurdles that must be cleared to mandate an initiative, this is understandable. However, in this article I want to articulate why in my experience this approach does not work.
- People are busy. In 2021, the total number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day is estimated to be 319.6 billion. By the end of 2025, that number is forecast to grow to more than 376 billion. That’s likely to be over 100 emails per day for the average office worker. Many people simply don’t have the time to focus on anything that is not essential to their job.It’s an extreme example, but in the direct marketing industry a 2% response rate is considered a reasonable return. Your colleagues and employees are busy people and the word “optional” or “voluntary” makes it all too easy for people to ignore a message.
- Employees may be jaded. Whilst this will vary by company, constant organisational change and restructuring can often mean that employees feel bombarded by new initiatives from various departments. It might be difficult to clearly communicate the benefits of a new initiative amongst so much noise. Again – the net result is that employees fail to engage with anything not mandated.
- Achieving desired sign-up rates with incentives alone is difficult. Before Brightmile, I worked for a leading utility company with more than 30,000 employees and we would regularly run campaigns with very generous prizes via our internal channels. The company and the internal marketing team were always disappointed by the levels of engagement, even when we were giving away prizes as valuable as a new car.Why? People are (perhaps correctly) sceptical as to whether they will actually win the car and their eyes skim over the email before they return to essential workflow. You are likely to attract a few curious early adopters but miss the critical mass needed to generate momentum in a new programme.
- Sustaining desired utilisation rates over time is close to impossible. Perhaps even more of a challenge is sustaining engagement on a voluntary basis over the long-term. Re-engaging drivers who have, for whatever reason, become disengaged and onboarding new joiners can be tricky after the initial excitement and novelty factor of a new initiative have subsided. Doing so on a voluntary basis is an uphill battle for a health and safety manager tasked with individually cajoling colleagues into compliance.
- Business driver safety is extremely important. There are 40 million work-related collisions reported globally each year and 450,000 deaths involving work-related driving. 94% of these incidents are caused by driver behaviour. Driving is also the largest single contributor to many companies’ carbon footprint. Improving driver safety should therefore be a corporate imperative rather than viewed as a ‘nice to have’. It would be unthinkable not to mandate the wearing of hard hats on a construction site, so why is business driving safety any different?
- Optionality sends a signal to employees that an initiative is not seen as important by leadership. Suggesting that a driver safety programme is highly recommended, optional or voluntary only serves to undermine the importance people will attribute to the initiative. It will give the distinct impression that the business doesn’t take it seriously.
- Companies have a Duty of Care to protect employees. In an ideal world, employees would identify the risks of unsafe driving and perhaps even be grateful for employer assistance to mitigate those risks. However, data shows that people cannot always be trusted to act in their own best interests. Few would argue that wearing a car seatbelt saves lives but, in the USA, NHTSA data shows that in States without primary seat belt laws, i.e. where drivers must first commit a separate violation before they can be pulled over and ticketed for failing to wear a seat belt, seat belt usage rates are at around 80%.Optionality also tends to be least effective with the people who need the programme most. Typically the most reckless drivers will be the least likely to volunteer for a safe driving programme. Companies have a Duty of Care to step up and protect their employees from known risks in the workplace.
Given the importance of business driver safety and the difficulties of securing and retaining engagement in a voluntary initiative, I believe strongly that any safe driving programme must be mandated. It might seem challenging, but where there is a will there is always a way!
At Brightmile, we have experience of mandating driver safety programmes at businesses of all shapes and sizes across the globe, and we know that any potential pushbacks against mandating a safety programme, such as data privacy concerns, can always be addressed and overcome. It might be decided to kick off in ‘anonymous mode’, but a mandated yet anonymous company programme is always preferable to an optional one.
It will be worth the effort – a mandatory driver safety programme delivers real value in the long-term as it becomes ingrained in the company culture and delivers tangible results across employee welfare, operational costs, and carbon footprints.