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Test your drivers – why employee health checks add up

They say a healthy workforce is a productive workforce, and the long-term benefits, both to the employer and employee, have been proven time and time again.

An estimated 137.3 million working days in the UK were lost due to sickness or injury in 2016, according to official data – that’s the equivalent of 4.3 days per worker [1].

Just as older cars have to undergo an MOT every year, it makes sense for drivers to have regular health checks too – not just to take a snapshot of how they feel that day, but to flag up potential issues such as risk of stroke and diabetes.

Essential health checks

Many fleet managers require their drivers to take annual, or even monthly, medical checks. Usually carried out by the employee’s GP, these focus on individual health and it should include everything from a blood pressure test to a BMI (Body Mass Index) check.

As it is, everyone aged 40-74 is encouraged to have an NHS Health Check which is designed to spot early signs of a stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes or dementia. Individual checks are available too at any stage of life.


According to a report by insurer RSA, poor vision contributes to nearly 2,900 accidents on UK roads every year[2], while it’s estimated that millions of motorists are not wearing the necessary eyewear to correct their vision while driving. A good fleet policy covers eyesight tests and advises drivers to wear prescription eyewear if they are needed. Many companies offer free eye test schemes, as do some opticians.

BMI calculator

This simple online tool will calculate a person’s healthy weight for their height by checking body mass index. It can help identify people who are overweight and at risk of developing medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.


Type 2 (the most common type of diabetes) is an insulin imbalance in the body which leads to raised blood sugar levels and can result in serious complications including stroke, heart and kidney disease, and, in severe cases, amputations.

Sufferers do not need to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency if their diabetes is treated by tablets, diet, or both. However, if complications such as Hypoglycaemia (also known as a hypo) are developed, the DVLA should be informed. This a medical term for a low blood glucose (sugar) level, which if left untreated may lead to unconsciousness.

A test for diabetes will involve a blood and urine test at a GP’s surgery.

Mental health

Driving for a living can be stressful and long hours on the road can compound underlying mental health issues. As a manager you have a duty of care to manage an employee’s mental health and are advised, as part of occupational health policies, to request annual health declarations from your drivers, in which they declare any health issues.

Understandably, many employees can be reserved about discussing such matters, though, so a proactive approach along with the provision for confidential meetings – possibly with an external professional – may encourage more drivers to open up.


High cholesterol itself doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but it increases the risk of serious health conditions, such as stroke and heart attacks. A GP or practice nurse can take a blood sample to carry out the test.

Blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. However, if untreated, it increases the risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness, blurred vision and confusion. All of these are dangerous conditions when driving.

For safety reasons, the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) has strict guidelines about who may and may not drive. If any of the drugs taken for a heart condition have side effects which may affect a person’s driving (eg drowsiness) then they are not allowed to drive.

DVLA rules are stricter for drivers of lorries and buses.

A test can be carried out by a GP or practice nurse, plus some pharmacies and workplaces. As a preventative measure, exercise should be part of a daily routine. Introducing physical activity can help to prevent and manage more than 20 chronic health conditions including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Anything that raises the heart rate, whether it’s a short walk or a quick sprint, will invigorate the mind and body. Current NHS guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.


To have an NHS hearing test, a GP’s referral is needed. Once referred, an assessment will be carried out by a qualified audiologist. There are currently no restrictions placed on deaf people who drive cars or motorcycles by the DVLA. However, deaf people who want to drive a bus, coach or lorry need to disclose any hearing loss.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

High mileage drivers are thought to have an increased risk of suffering from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on long journeys. Anyone who thinks they may have DVT should see their GP.
Symptoms may include leg pains and aches, plus swelling. A doctor may advise having a specialised blood test called a D-dimer test. Additional tests, such as an ultrasound scan, will need to be carried out to confirm DVT.

To minimise the risk, drivers should exercise calf muscles by clenching toes to stimulate blood circulation, stop more often and use this opportunity to walk around and drink more water.


According to RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents , and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents. There are specific rules regarding driving hours and breaks. Additionally, sleep apnoea is a condition that causes frequent pauses in breathing during sleep and leaves the suffering feeling tired.

Tell-tale signs of sleep apnoea are snoring and extreme tiredness during the day. A study jointly carried out by RAC Business and the OSA Partnership Group [3] revealed that 57% of firms interviewed possessed little knowledge of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) [4]. If a person thinks they have OSAS, they should visit their GP. They may need to be referred to a sleep specialist for further tests and treatment.

The law

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) employer-held health records are considered “sensitive data”. This could concern the physical or mental health, or the condition of an employee or job applicant. Examples include pre-employment questionnaires, drug and alcohol test results, and any information that has been revealed through an occupational health examination.

An employer must ask for an employee’s consent before accessing their health records or requesting a medical report. Under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988, an employee has the right to decline consent. However, this may amount to misconduct and could be grounds for disciplinary action.

The DPA does not prevent an employer from monitoring workers, but it must be done in a way which is consistent with the Act. Employers must also consider Article 8 the European Convention on Human Rights which creates a right for each individual to respect for private and family life, home and their correspondence.

It is important to note that you should always seek guidance from your in-house data privacy or legal adviser before you engage in any such activities.

[1] Sickness absence in the labour market: 2016
[2] Fit to drive: a cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, RSA Insurance Group plc, 2012
[3] RAC Business and the OSA Partnership Group
[4] “Fatigue and Road Safety: A Critical Analysis of Recent Evidence”, Road Safety Web Publication No. 21, Department for Transport, 2011

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