Taking good care of drivers – and their vehicles – are top priorities

Drivers are the lifeblood of any commercial vehicle fleet and ensuring their wellbeing forms a vital part of running a successful and safe company.

It is a similar story with the vehicles. With fleet managers often based in a single location, the co-operation and care of drivers is essential to keep the fleet’s vehicles safe and well maintained.

Delegates from a variety of sectors attended a recent round table in Birmingham, sponsored by BT Fleet, to share best practice and improve safety. They discussed how a variety of innovative working practice ideas beyond the vehicle, and traditional risk management techniques, have benefitted their businesses.

What is your fleet currently doing to manage driver risk?

Robert Lindsay, driver risk manager, Balfour Beatty: We’ve invested a lot of time and effort into a permit-to-drive system. Everyone who drives on business has to have one, it’s effectively a ‘rite of passage’ now. To get people on board, there is e-learning, licence checking and declarations, but the clever bit is the dynamic nature throughout the life of the driver.

They’ll get risk points added and taken away based on their driving – whether from speeding points, telematics data, or an overloaded weigh-in. The driver will then go through to intervention, which could be on-road coaching, or even removing their permit-to-drive in certain cases. We’ve done that before on more than one occasion.

You can ‘do well’ though, particularly with telematics scores – it’s not all negative.

Drivers just want recognition – and that doesn’t have to be money or a holiday. We will now send congratulatory letters to drivers if we’ve seen an improvement in their scores after a course and they really appreciate that.

Alison Moriarty, fleet risk and compliance manager, Skanska: We have a fleet risk matrix for every driver. Again, everything feeds in. When they’ve done a module to correct an intervention, it brings their score down. It refreshes every day. We also work preventatively to help stop drivers going up to the next risk level if their score is creeping up.

Robert Lindsay: We keep finding new, innovative ways to feed data into the system. One of the latest is using the reports we get back after a tyre change. If a vehicle’s tyres are below the legal limit when changed, that, for us, is a risk indicator. It’s not just about how many crashes a driver has.

Ted Sakyi, group fleet manager, Wates Group: We now use a medical questionnaire before issuing a vehicle, the results of which are managed and checked by occupational health before a vehicle is released.

How do you encourage drivers to look after their vehicles, and properly manage defects?

Aaron Powell, national fleet manager, HSS Hire: We introduced barcodes on the vans for drivers to scan as they go round and complete their daily inspection. It means we know they physically walk round and check it. The time taken to complete the checks has gone from an average of 34 seconds to 15 minutes.

Steve Duffy, business support manager, road fleet, Network Rail: If a defect is found on a daily check, we immediately stand the vehicle down, and it goes straight in for repair – with no recourse to the driver. It doesn’t matter if the foreman is shouting and screaming that the vehicle is needed. If it has a defect, it can’t be used. 

Graham Telfer, fleet manager, Gateshead Council: If we have a vehicle in for service or maintenance and a defect is found that hasn’t been reported, we’ll interview the driver to investigate why it hasn’t been picked up.

Phil Clifford, fleet and technical manager, West Suffolk Councils: We’re introducing in-cab units for drivers to sign into the vehicle for telematics, and complete their daily walkround vehicle checks. Any defects reported are emailed immediately to us, and dealt with straight away. We do that as many of our drivers don’t have a smartphone, and we wouldn’t want them to use their own phone.

Ted Sakyi: Our tradesmen aren’t assigned their first job of the day until their vehicle check has been completed.

How do you look after driver welfare, and reduce the stress from work pressures?

Alison Moriarty: A couple of years ago, we had a local authority contract for gritting, highways services and refuse collection, and, due to the weather, that client sent all its staff home early at 2pm, but told us to carry on. Of course gritting would carry on, but we took the decision to send everyone else home for their safety, and deal with the consequences later.

Stewart Lightbody, head of fleet services, Anglian Water: We’ve had drivers ask if when it’s snowing really heavily they can put chains on their vehicle. If it’s that bad though, we would prefer drivers to stay at home. Giving them a four-wheel drive won’t make them invincible. 

Andrew Gibbons, fleet continuous improvement manager, Ginsters: We deliver to thousands of businesses every day, from 15 depots. Our guys often work 11-hour days. Because they were on commission, drivers would criss-cross areas, racing to get to the best jobs as quickly as they could to spend more time with customers.

We look at the telematics to work out how long each customer takes to service, and now use route planning to build their days accordingly, including break times.

Salary structures have now changed, too, to take away the chase – where commission is split equally across the depot. It opened the door to better split the jobs and reduce stress.

Customer service levels have gone up, so it helps the business too.

Stewart Lightbody: Telematics is much more than tracking, in fact that’s largely irrelevant. For me, it gives a picture of what our staff days look like.

Alison Moriarty: We had a contract where staff could go home when they’d finished their work. At the end of the day, they’d race home to make the most of the extra time.

Once we told them they had to come back to the depot, we cut accident rates by 45% in a fortnight. It’s easy to fall into the trap and vilify drivers, but there’s so much we can do in organisations to reduce the pressures.

Robert Lindsay: We’ve had positive feedback about our mobile phone ban, with drivers saying they’re less stressed on journeys as there is no expectation of calls being answered. They are taking more regular stops to deal with the calls, so are getting to their destination feeling fresh.

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