Transport safety in schools is about a lot more than an annual service of the school minibus, says Surekha Gollapudi

In December 2014, a 15-year-old boy died after being struck by a minibus when he was crossing a road outside school to board his bus home. Bridgend council was later fined £300,000 for its failure to enlarge a layby to accommodate all school buses at home time and allow pupils to board safely from the pavement. The Health and Safety Executive has since urged schools to review traffic arrangements within their grounds to ensure they have properly considered all significant risks and their associated control measures.

In addition to ensuring appropriate traffic management on school property, road traffic legislation imposes specific requirements on employers in respect of vehicle use and maintenance and driving on public roads when “driving for work”.

Common mistakes and misconceptions generally made around driving for work include:

“They do not drive a vehicle owned by the school, so do not drive for work”

Understanding who drives for work is essential to managing risk. The definition of “driving for work” is ”any driving done for work purposes other than the normal commute to the usual place of work”. This could include, for example, a short trip to the supermarket to purchase school supplies or a drive to another campus. Importantly, this definition is not linked to who owns the car or whether it is leased or hired.

“They are driving their own car, so are covered by their personal insurance”

If an individual is driving for work, they will require business insurance regardless of how often they drive for work and whether they use their own vehicle. Employers should consider whether employees’ vehicles used for work purposes (often called “grey fleet”) are safe and legal to be on the road, and whether drivers are properly licensed and insured. This requires effective communication with employees and driver licence checks.

“They have a valid driving licence, so are fine to drive the school minibus”

Do not confuse qualifications with competence. An individual may have a valid driving licence (for the appropriate class of vehicle), but this does not equate to competence driving larger vehicles such as a minibus. Check that they are confident and experienced with driving larger vehicles, monitor their driving and provide appropriate information, instruction and training for the vehicle they are using.

A trip to the supermarket for school supplies is driving for work

“We have the school minibus serviced each year, so don’t need to regularly check it”

This is a common mistake. Whilst an annual service and MOT is essential, regular further basic checks should include ensuring that all lights are working, mirrors are correctly positioned and tyres are not damaged. Employers should also check that the type of vehicle being driven is appropriate for the intended purpose and that the driver is familiar with it.

“We have engaged a competent bus company to transport our students and carried out all the necessary background checks. It’s now down to them”

Wrong. When using contractors, employers still have health and safety responsibilities. Ensure you manage the bus company effectively: check any health and safety policy and the training delivered to drivers; provide them with relevant information such as vehicle and pedestrian routes, and undertake regular monitoring to ensure the drivers are not acting in an unsafe manner.

Effective planning and design of the school site is also required to ensure the safety of pedestrians and those on board any vehicles. To reduce the likelihood of an accident, clearly mark out and maintain separate pedestrian and vehicle routes. Consider if there are ways to reduce the need for vehicles to reverse. If employees are monitoring a car park, ensure they are wearing high-vis vests and are visible to drivers at all times, as well as trained to at least a basic standard in traffic management.

Co-written by Claire Watson, health and safety lawyer