Feature – Focus on cars: Controlling risk after the company party

With the festive season upon us, and anti drink-driving campaigns rolling out across the nation, organisers are encouraged to be safety conscious, says Nick Golding

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Ensure there are strict company policies in place on drink-driving matters. Police will breathalyse drivers where possible during December and early January. Driving while over the legal limit carries a possible penalty of imprisonment, a 12-month ban and a fine of up to £5,000.

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An employer’s key concerns at the December party will usually hover between the drinks bill and the slowly-deteriorating possibility that anyone will actually arrive for work the following morning. However, this Christmas, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) wants organisational focus to shift towards the effects of alcohol, especially the morning after the night before. Roger Vincent, senior press officer at Rospa, says: "The biggest problem is drink-driving.

Many people just don’t realise how drink will still affect your judgement on both the night [perhaps after a lunch], and [indeed] the morning after; this needs [understanding]." Vincent believes that a large part of this responsibility should lie with employers, and they should be involved with the education of staff on this subject. "Some of the courses and seminars Rospa run help educate on the effects of alcohol and the length of time it remains in your system. People are genuinely shocked when we tell them the facts."

Rospa’s guidelines on drink and drugs, published this month, urge employers to review and reiterate their existing policies to employees. "Employees should be informed through the company policies what is expected of them, and what will happen if they fail to live up to these expectations," adds Vincent. If convicted, a drink-driver will face a ban, a fine and even a prison sentence, which would clearly have serious implications on his or her employment. Details of a conviction take 11 years to clear from a licence.

Gavin Jones, services manager for accident management and short-term hire at Masterlease, agrees it is in the employer’s interest to hammer home and spell out the consequences of a drink-driving conviction to their staff. "It is absolutely critical that staff are communicated to on this. Employees should be asked to read and sign the company policies on a regular basis. This isn’t something that is getting worse each year, but police are becoming more effective in their detective techniques, they are targeting Christmas parties and employees need to know that a certain percentage of offenders will be caught." So how can employers tackle the problem?

Brian Cooper, senior manager in human resource services at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) accepts that "all we can do is ensure that our policies are clear. Should any incidents occur, the company reputation is at risk so we must be careful". Illegal substances PwC’s policies cover both the effects of drink and drugs in the evening and the morning after, stating: "Alcohol persists in the bloodstream, you may be over the legal limit the morning after an evening." The company also issues a warning to staff over drug use: "

The use of so-called recreational drugs is against the law. Any employee using illegal substances will also seriously impair their ability and judgement to drive." Responsibility is also clearly passed to the employee, requiring them to "know the law in respect of drinking and driving". "It is ultimately the employee’s responsibility to abide by the law, but the employer must have clear policies in place and should, especially at Christmas, raise awareness of these policies," adds Cooper.