Through what is known as vicarious liability, an employer is “liable for acts or omissions of their employees, provided it be shown they took place in the course of their employment.” One such omission could be that of a driver failing to report a medical condition to the DVLA as well as their employer.
Whilst a fleet transport manager should regularly check drivers have valid licences, clean bills of health and eyesight tests and correction, one area of vicarious liability that could prove trickier to negotiate relates to mental health and, in particular, dementia.
There are current moves to make it a legal requirement for doctors to notify the licensing authorities, if a patient has been diagnosed with dementia. This means the transport manager could be by-passed within the notification process and, very worryingly, remain in the dark. The problem is likely to be exacerbated in the coming years, as the current total of 850,000 UK dementia sufferers is predicted to rise to more than one million by 2025 .
Transport, as a sector, is potentially more exposed to mental health conditions, than others. The driver population is an ageing one, with the career largely unattractive to younger people. The fleet driver’s life can be stressful, peppered with long hours, poor diet, work overload, sleep deprivation and constant pressure.
Dementia may not be immediately evident to either driver or employer. Mood swings and struggles in information processing could easily be attributed to other things. The medical conditions of on-the-road drivers can remain hidden, requiring a transport manager to be extra vigilant, perhaps picking up on a higher accident frequency for one driver, continual servicing of their vehicle, or an unusually high fuel usage that suggests the vehicle is not being driven correctly.
Some drivers may think it unnecessary to report their condition, or be reluctant to do so, knowing one-in-three dementia suffers are still behind the wheel. Concerns about losing income through loss of work, could also encourage a driver to not reveal a diagnosis, even though the authorities often issue a 12-month licence at first, rather than revoking one.
Should any accident occur because a fleet manager failed to notify the DVLA or DVA about a medical condition, however, even if they were genuinely unaware of it, they could face a vicarious liability charge. Additionally, if they failed to inform their insurer, any claim involving the driver with an undeclared medical condition could well be declined.
Whilst this may seem an almost impossible situation to manage, there are ways to keep on top of legal responsibilities. Training in how to spot key medical conditions, creating a workplace in which employees can freely discuss their mental health and the introduction of telematics systems, can all help track what is going on inside the minds and bodies of those climbing into the cab.
If you need help, let us get you on the road to better control and on-point, compliant reporting of drivers’ conditions and licence permissions. A discussion can help provide support, bolster your risk management strategies and make your yard or depot a safer place to be.