Understanding the OHS obligations of fleet management

 There are some facts that both business owners and fleet managers need to know regarding their obligations under OH&S legislation for fleet maintenance. As work related driving is potentially a high risk activity, without this knowledge you may leave yourself and your business unprotected and at risk of work safety charges, financial penalties, legal costs and other associated costs.

Fleet Vehicles as A Place of Work

Anytime an employee undertakes any paid work duties using a vehicle provided by a company, the vehicle is deemed to be a workplace. As such the employer is also deemed to be responsible for the employee and the workplace under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Employer obligations relate to the provision and maintenance of the condition of the vehicle, the employees who drive the vehicle and the general public, including other drivers and pedestrians.

Business awareness is critical as fleet vehicles travel about three times the distance of privately owned vehicles (1), and research shows that fleet vehicles have a higher rate of involvement in crashes. In fact, vehicle accidents represent 41% of all compensated work fatalities (2).

When employees are using company provided vehicles to undertake paid work of any kind the obligations under the OH&S legislation apply to the company, the company’s directors, managers, supervisors and workers.

Safety Is the Duty Of Employers

Under Section 21 of the OHS Act, an employer has a duty or responsibility to provide and maintain, as so far as is reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy working environment for its employees. The majority of the responsibility for employee and vehicle safety is vested in the employer as they control the work context. It is the employer and management that determine the work context, work systems and success measures. These management decisions determine if the work environment and employee are safe, and if the work tasks being completed are being done safely. It is the duty of the employee to follow instructions and use the work systems and equipment as directed by management. As a consequence the majority of accountability for workplace safety risk, injuries and incidents remains with the employer. This translates to charges, penalties and financial responsibilities associated with workplace injuries.


Management Accountabilities Expansion

Recent legislation changes have increased the focus of liability for safety in the workplace to include a broader scope than before. Now employees, managers, employers and board members have increased accountabilities to protect worker safety. Whilst this makes good sense, it means anyone with a role in supervising the work environment and work duties of others will have accountability for safety in that work context. Managers, supervisors and board members will face increased accountability for their decisions and work safety outcomes. Now managers, including fleet managers, will increasingly face the spotlight for safety risk management decisions such as selection of vehicles, programs for maintenance and repair, safe use of vehicles and worker competency to use the vehicle safely.

The increased management accountability is augmented by increased penalties which include a maximum penalty for each breach by an individual of up to $215,010. Multiple breaches may apply.

Vehicles as Machinery And Equipment

Vehicles are deemed as machinery. Each vehicle requires a rigorous recorded evidence of a maintenance program to protect the safety of the vehicle and driver. The documentation required in cases of vehicle collisions and subsequent investigation by WorkSafe includes evidence of regular vehicle checks and that vehicles are maintained to manufacturer’s requirements.

To lower exposure to risk for the company, fleet manager and workers, efficient and documented safety control programs are required to be implemented. WorkSafe examples of effective control of vehicle safety and systems of work include:

  • Vehicles are chosen against criteria covering active and passive safety features
  • Driver and vehicle safety is included as part of the OHS program
  • Regular vehicle checks undertaken
  • All vehicles are maintained to manufacturer’s service requirements

Manufacturer’s standards play a critical part in providing minimum standard for repair of vehicles and maintenance of vehicle safety. Adherence to these minimum standards provides protection of vehicles, worker safety, and fleet manager’s liability and exposure to personal and professional risk.

  • Will Murray, Sharon Newnam, Barry Watson, Jeremy Davey and Cynthia Schonfeld. Evaluating and improving fleet safety in Australia, Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) report prepared for the Department of Transport and Regional Services, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 2003 as cited in A handbook for workplaces: Guide to safe work related driving November 2008,, accessed 16/05/2011
  • Mark Symmons and Narelle Haworth. Safety attitudes and behaviours in work-related driving – Stage 1: Analyses of crash data, Monash University Accident Research Centre, Report number 232, 2005.pg 3, cited in A handbook for workplaces: Guide to safe work related driving November 2008, accessed 16/05/2011