CommercialFleet

Keltbray: "Well-trained, nurtured drivers are vital to us"

Putting drivers first, fitting a wide range of safety equipment and using telematics data has helped specialist construction industry contractor Keltbray reduce fleet claims costs by 45%

Commercial vehicle operators working in London’s booming construction sector are driving up standards that will have an impact UK-wide.

At the heart of this is Keltbray Group, a privately-owned £270 million turnover company celebrating its 40th anniversary. Based in Esher, it has expanded from its London heartland to become a specialist contractor providing engineering, construction, demolition, decommissioning, remediation, rail and environmental services across the country. 

Among its many high profile construction projects are the Shard, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Stadium, St Pancras International train station, Crossrail, Earls Court station and Battersea power station.

With tenders demanding that contractors have best practice and road safety engrained in their DNA, Keltbray maintains that achieving Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) gold status, becoming a Construction Logistics and Cyclists Safety (CLOCS) champion and securing Freight Transport Association Van Excellence accreditation has been critical to its ongoing expansion.

Head of haulage operations Terry Good joined the company 11 years ago and has overseen a five-fold increase in the truck fleet, from eight tippers and three beavertail trucks to 40 Scania 32-tonne rigid tippers and 10 other Scania trucks, including hook loaders, grab vehicles, low loaders, flat bed and beavertail plant.

Now a FORS practitioner, having completed a manager training programme, Good says: “FORS has been instrumental in improving compliance in the haulage industry, especially in London. Meanwhile, CLOCS is bringing the construction logistics industry together to change work-related road safety practice. I work with our sub-contractors to bring them up to a FORS bronze standard as a minimum. In tender documents, if we cannot meet the demands of FORS and CLOCS it would have an impact on our business.

“Our customers insist on such standards, so it makes sense for Keltbray to ensure all of our sub-contractors are FORS-accredited.”

Keltbray also operates a fleet of around 700 diesel vans. While the more specialised vehicles are owned, a majority are leased with purchasing or part-exchange undertaken on a case-by-case basis depending on the market buoyancy and business demands. 

Vehicle replacement is every three years, although the more specialised vans may only be replaced every five years, with models averaging around 30,000 miles a year.

Operating from seven depots in the south and Midlands, the van fleet comprises Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot in virtually every model in respective line-ups from car-derived vans to dropside, crew cabs and five-seaters. 

Additionally, vans are kitted out with a vast array of ancillary equipment including generators, compressors, racking, lighting, tow bars and employee welfare features such as washing facilities, tables and hot water.

Sean Murphy was appointed group fleet manager in late 2014, having worked for Keltbray for almost a decade, most recently managing the company’s plant and related equipment maintenance. Last year, the company secured Van Excellence accreditation. 

“Achieving this standard has been a significant investment and a demonstration of our commitment to high standards across the group,” Murphy says.

Keltbray funds its trucks on hire purchase and operates them on a five-year cycle, with total mileages averaging 300,000. At the end of the agreement, vehicles are purchased, part-exchanged or replaced on a case-by-case basis depending on the market and business requirements at any one time. 

Defleeted trucks are sold into the market.

The company’s expansion has been so rapid in recent years that it has been supplementing its HGV fleet with sub-contractors. 

On any one day, 100 or more sub-contractors’ trucks could be working for Keltbray and they must all be submitted for vetting before joining its preferred supplier list. All vehicle documentation and appropriate licences are retained on record. 

Typically, Keltbray’s own truck fleet operates out of its south east centres, supported by sub-contractors, which also undertake work in other parts of the country.

“The company’s growth has been rapid, particularly over the past five years,” says Good. “We continually review our fleet requirements, balancing the fleet size with sub-contractor use during busy periods.”

The company’s truck replacement policy means that it will be adding the very latest Euro 6-compliant trucks to its fleet from the autumn, ensuring that it is fully compliant with regulations governing the introduction of the ultra-low emission zone across London in 2020, or perhaps earlier if the capital’s recently-elected mayor Sadiq Khan fast-forwards policy changes.

All trucks are maintained on Scania’s managed maintenance programme with service, maintenance and repair undertaken overnight to ensure downtime is kept to a minimum. Van maintenance is also through franchised dealers.

The company opted for an all-Scania truck fleet after an initial batch of 10 vehicles proved reliable when acquired five years ago.

One of the benefits to Keltbray of an all-Scania fleet is that the company uses the manufacturer’s online fleet management reporting tool to measure performance including fuel usage, vehicle emissions and driver behaviour. 

With all commercial vehicles equipped with telematics – vans are also speed-limited to 70mph – data is collated and fed into the FORS performance reporting system so Keltbray can measure its truck fleet performance anonymously against other construction fleets.

While a single brand truck fleet meets Keltbray’s requirements, Good is conscious that “there are no poor vehicles” on the market and that manufacturers are taking significant steps forward in terms of vehicle design – notably improved driver visibility – and on fuel economy and emissions reduction.

Low-level visibility trucks will increasingly find a place on the fleet, but alternatively-fuelled vehicles remain a little further away. “We would look at hybrid tippers,” adds Good. 

Similarly, electric vans could be viable, particularly in London, if technology advances deliver additional range and payload and the recharging infrastructure continues to expand.

Keltbray’s fleet safety focus started in 2008 when it believes it was one of the first to equip side proximity sensor technology systems to trucks. Since then, it has gone on to fit:

■ CCTV to the front, offside and nearside of all tipper trucks along with cycle and pedestrian sensor systems – cycle wide scanners are also fitted to vans

■ Side under-run guards

■ Reversing cameras and white noise reversing sirens, which are said to be less irritating than tonal beeping alarms, preventing workers from becoming desensitised to the warning

■ Cab-operated air tailgate systems

■ Front and rear strobe lighting 

■ Hydraulic load sensors

“Drivers have a clear picture of what is occurring around their vehicle,” says Good. “We can view footage frame-by-frame as required with regards to incidents and near-misses. We have also seen benefits to our insurance as we are able to provide evidence with regards to any claim.”

Most recently, Keltbray trialled a new safety device on a tipper truck aimed at saving the lives of cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. The DawesGuard claims to be a revolutionary safety system that creates a shield across the danger zone between the axles of large vehicles. In the event of a collision, it prevents a person going into the danger zone and significantly reduces the risk of serious or fatal injury.

To make the design feasible for fleets which have an off-road need, including the construction and waste services sector, the system can be retracted or deployed with the flick of a switch from inside the cab, thus enabling the vehicle to be used in uneven, off-road environments. 

Keltbray has also equipped the vehicle with the Dawes PeoplePanel. These panels are made of tough shatterproof plastic and are fitted over existing under-run bars to reduce the risk of entanglement of clothing or bicycle parts.

“When it comes to the safety of our drivers and other road users we are constantly seeking ways to improve standards through training and investment,” says Good. “Road safety is a continuous process, and so we keep investing in equipment to ensure that our vehicles are fitted with ever-more modern equipment.”

Keltbray is also a major supporter of cycle safety schemes run by Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police. The capital’s Exchanging Places Initiative sees cyclists take a seat in the company’s HGV to get a better understanding of driver blind spots and safe behaviour around large vehicles. 

Meanwhile, as group fleet manager, Murphy has a holistic view of the van fleet and sets policy with transport coordinators located at seven company depots responsible for day-to-day vehicle management.

Vans are driven by employees who range from demolition, construction and rail operatives to fabricators and welders and in mid-2015 they were all issued with a comprehensive driver pack that included a major focus on safety.

The packs contain a driver handbook, the Highway Code, ‘bump cards’ for completion if a crash occurs and tyre tread indicator. They underline the importance of daily and weekly walk-around vehicle checks. 

All vans are equipped with telematics with front and rear cameras and those owned by Keltbray are also equipped with nearside and offside cameras. Murphy, a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence holder, says: “A combination of the actions we have taken – speed limiters, telematics, cameras and the driver packs – has undoubtedly reduced the number of speeding and other incidents we record.”

The raft of information means that bespoke action plans can be introduced on a driver-by-driver basis, overseen by the company’s seven driving assessors. Indeed, a focus in the coming months is on expanding van driver assessments to further improve safety and fuel efficiency.

“Drivers realise that the Group is serious about fleet safety and they have taken it upon themselves to behave as the company expects when on the road,” says Murphy. “While they may not be professional drivers, they are in liveried vans and are ambassadors for the company.

“Safety is more regulated in trucks, but the onus is on employers to be just as professional in respect of vans. We are aiming to raise the professional standards of van drivers to those of truck drivers.”

Both Good and Murphy say that the safety focus has resulted in a significant reduction in vehicle crashes – particularly nearside truck incidents – and that, when they do occur, the severity of the incident is much reduced. According to Murphy, the proactive attitude to risk and driver management has also helped drive a 45% reduction in fleet claims costs compared to last year.

The DawesGuard is deployed and retracted at the flick of an in-cab switch by drivers, which makes a significant difference when so much information is being conveyed to them by screens and sensors as well as the vehicle’s dashboard.

Good admits that there is a balance to be struck between operating a safety-focused fleet and overwhelming drivers with data.

He says: “That is why the DawesGuard is such a great feature because it is so simple to operate. We have to be careful not to overload drivers with too much information.”

Good leads a six-strong team that includes two in-house driver-trainers. Would-be recruits undergo a day’s assessment and then, on joining the company, they spend a week with the assessors “to get a feel for the businesses and what it expects of its drivers”. All drivers then undergo a half-day assessment twice a year with video footage from any incidents reviewed with the potential to trigger further training.

“The most important thing for Keltbray is to operate a safe fleet,” says Good, a transport engineer who started his career with Post Office Telephones before becoming an owner/driver and undertaking work for a company that was subsequently acquired by Keltbray. “Being an owner/driver gave me an insight into being careful in terms of operating costs. There are a lot more cyclists in London, and they have the right to use the roads. We all need to live together.”

Murphy adds: “It’s important to understand driver issues and ensure they are safe and compliant. But it is also vital to recognise the commercial needs of the business and ensure that vans and the ancillary items fitted are fit-for-purpose and to enable employees to be productive and safe in their work. We listen to the drivers and managers, find out the requirements of the business and then specify and equip vans to meet the demands of both.”

The company is owned by chief executive officer Brendan Kerr, who joined in 1989, and became the sole shareholder in 2003.

Having worked in the public and now the private sector, Good says: “The public sector has much to learn from the private sector in terms of decision-making. We are always looking to introduce new technology and initiatives. 

“As managers, we are empowered to develop ideas and so long as we can prove the case, decisions are made quickly. The company has invested significantly in the fleet and training to ensure we keep driving improvements in safety, customer service and environmental performance.” 

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