Rules loophole increases health and safety risks to company vehicles
A loophole in the way that company vehicles are managed and serviced means that thousands of New Zealand company bosses could be in danger of contravening the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
While vehicles are the single largest cause of work-related injury in New Zealand – according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment – the structure of how company vehicle leases work, coupled with new Warrant of Fitness (WOF) rules, may be upping the risk factor.
CEO of New Zealand car leasing and finance company Driveline, Lance Manins, says that under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, company vehicles are considered places of work, and one already identified as a national priority by the Government.
"I suspect that as a result of this priority status, enforcement officials will take a very dim view of managers who fail in their obligations to ensure that their company cars are safe.
"The problem is that many vehicle lease service and maintenance agreements are not safety inspections, people just assume that they are. On top of this mistaken perception, WOF inspections on new vehicles are only required every three years (or every six months on vehicles older than 2000), and so much can go wrong in six months, never mind three years."
Most people may be unaware that a WOF inspection is not a guarantee of roadworthiness, and that even a full maintenance lease does not free company management of their responsibility.
"You still have to treat the vehicle as your own. Now more than ever it is important to move vehicle maintenance up the priority list."
Manins said one common vulnerability that his company has identified occurs when a vehicle's front wheel strikes the verge, for example during parking, resulting in a damaged tyre or bent tie rod.
"The tyre could burst at high speed, or the tie-rod could seriously impact the vehicle's ability to avoid a collision if the driver has to swerve suddenly. These may seem like small, innocuous things, but they're common faults, and they're dangerous," he said.
Many corporate decision makers may not regard running a sales team as a high-risk activity, like driving a truck or forklift, but a good percentage of traffic accidents are caused, or made worse, by poor vehicle maintenance. 
"High levels of traffic in Auckland will exacerbate the wear and tear on a vehicle, making it older in real terms than the mileage may suggest."
Manins offers the following advice for management whose staff use company vehicles:
 
1. Prioritise work vehicle safety as an issue within the business.
2. Put in place a documented health and safety programme of policies and procedures around vehicle maintenance and use.
3. Ensure that vehicles are regularly checked including WOFs, servicing and visual safety checks by employees. 
4. Ensure staff receive advanced driver training and are competent to use the vehicle even down to adjusting the ergonomics of their seating. 
5. Invest in a fleet management system that records safety checks and the compliance status of each vehicle.
 
"The more time employees spend in a motor vehicle, which is their workplace, the more consideration needs to be put into that equipment's health and safety.
"The payback isn't only safety related. When a vehicle is comfortable and easy to use, your staff are happier and more productive when they get in front of their customers – health and safety is good for business," Manins said.