O'Donovan: ‘Rogue operators give our industry a bad name’


A London-based SME is proving that large, high profile transport operations do not have exclusivity on great ideas when it comes to improving efficiency, minimising occupational road risk and reducing CO2 emissions.

Construction waste management company O’Donovan Waste Disposal is in the vanguard of promoting commercial vehicle best practice across its expanding 85-strong vehicle fleet – and encouraging other operators to follow its lead.

The £15 million turnover family-owned business, with more than 140 employees, is headed by managing director Jacqueline O’Donovan, one of the UK’s top businesswomen, with a passion not only for her business but for professionalising the commercial vehicle driver’s job and making London a safer place.

The company’s range of services – everything from skip hire to waste management, road sweepers to demolition – means that it operates a multi-faceted mix of vehicles, although the majority are tippers averaging 34,000 miles a year and skip loaders averaging 15,000 miles a year.

The all-diesel fleet is dominated by Volvo models, with some Scania, DAF, MAN and Mercedes-Benz trucks. All are bought on hire purchase agreements over three years and operated on eight-to-10-year replacement cycles.

The business was established in 1959 by O’Donovan’s late father Joe. She joined aged 17 along with her three siblings – Michael, Caroline and Anthony – following his sudden death at the age of 51 and took the managing director’s hot seat aged just 19.

Almost 30 years later, O’Donovan Waste Disposal remains committed to working as sustainably and safely as possible, while continuing to provide an excellent service to clients. 

Such commitments are reflected in:
- Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) gold accreditation for the fourth consecutive year by demonstrating its focus on improved safety and driver training.
- Championing Transport for London’s Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety (CLOCS) initiative since its launch two years ago having helped develop the standard.
- Accreditation to the National Safe Contractor scheme.
- Winning the commercial vehicle management award in the Energy Saving Trust Fleet Hero Awards in 2013 and 2014.
- Winning the health, safety and environmental skills development 2015 title at the 16th annual Environment and Energy Awards. 
What’s more, O’Donovan was this year made a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), joining an elite group of women – only 5% of fellows are women.

And in May she won the prestigious Institute of Directors (IoD) family business director of the year award for London and the South East and will represent the region at the national ceremony later in the year.

O’Donovan, a qualified transport manager and Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) holder, says: “We are committed to operating at the very highest standard in all aspects of our business.”

It sounds simple, but she explains that much hard work has gone into ensuring that health and safety is of “the upmost importance to us and we are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to ensure we operate above and beyond the industry standard so that we can lead by example”.

The approach is paying business dividends with O’Donovan saying: “I became involved with FORS and CLOCS because I felt the SME sector needed to be represented. Transport managers in plcs with big fleets are a step removed from the real world and most companies in the UK are SMEs.

“Nevertheless, the success we are having and the fleet initiatives that we are introducing are helping to win and retain business because organisations want suppliers that are compliant and take corporate social responsibility seriously.”

In respect of the company’s environmental agenda, O’Donovan says: “We recognised that  the waste industry needed to lead by example  so we set about introducing our own Greener Vision Strategy, which we designed to benefit  our business and staff, as well as our clients and the environment.”

From a fleet perspective that has seen the introduction of an anti-idling campaign mated to the introduction of telematics that sees drivers rewarded with weekly red, amber or green certificates and ‘serial offenders’ receiving additional mentoring and training. However, the continuous introduction of new technology means that new vehicles added to the fleet now feature automatic engine shut-off. 

The company’s annual diesel bill runs to £1 million a year and, while O’Donovan Waste Disposal has investigated the viability of plug-in electric vehicles, they remain unsuitable.

Nevertheless, the hands-on O’Donovan, who confesses to “loving being in the thick of the business”, says: “We work closely with the vehicle manufacturers and keep everything under review. I don’t think it will be long before we have choices: different fuelling for different types of vehicle. Skip loaders may be hybrid electric and larger vehicles fuelled with biodiesel.”

An £80,000 investment in telematics enables driver behaviour to be monitored in real time and driving patterns identified so that potential training needs are recognised at an early stage. 

Driving style, speed, braking, cornering and idling are monitored, enabling drivers to be trained and educated on employing the most economical, safe and green techniques when behind the wheel. A year after the investment, the number of  ‘events’ measured has dropped from 18,000 a month to less than 6,000.

Additionally, the technology is contributing to a reduction in accidents – in recent months limited to the odd minor manoeuvring scrape – as well as cutting fuel consumption and minimising the carbon footprint through emission reduction.
O’Donovan says: “We are constantly out on London’s busy roads, so it’s vitally important that all drivers meet the standards we expect. We have found that sharing the data and recognising successes has really engaged all our drivers and they are keen to analyse their own data and deliver the required changes.
“Telematics systems bring real benefits for both fleet managers and drivers alike, helping them do their jobs more effectively and safely as well as being more environmentally friendly.”

Accreditation to ensure standards

Drivers go through Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving (SAFED) certification in addition to completing the in-house Driver CPC and being encouraged to take part in the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London’s Exchanging Places events, where cyclists learn about the challenges HGV drivers face on London’s roads. 

All drivers attend Safe Urban Driving courses, which involve a trainer taking the drivers onto London’s streets on a bicycle so they experience first-hand cycling in close proximity to HGVs.

O’Donovan’s Driver CPC scheme, launched early this year, is believed to be the first course designed and implemented by a waste management company. A core element of driver inductions, it is designed to improve their understanding of waste, customer relations, legal obligations, compliance, efficiency and the environment.

It is certified by the joint Approvals Unit for Periodic Training and is available to other companies to promote best practice.

“As the content is based on the experience of industry professionals and drivers it is designed to ensure that it is 100% applicable to the individual and their job role,” says O’Donovan.

“The training and development of our staff is incredibly important to ensure safety and reliability. We hope to change the way that drivers are supported so that, going forward, HGV driving will be recognised for the profession it is.”

A further challenge facing the industry is the introduction of a new generation of drivers amid a continuing shortage. O’Donovan explains: “We need to professionalise the role of the driver just the same as an accountant or a solicitor is a professional. Driving a truck is a skilled job and recognition as a profession will make attracting young drivers to the industry easier.”

On taking delivery of its vehicles, O’Donovan Waste Disposal typically spends around £5,000 per vehicle retro-fitting a range of safety features including forward-facing and nearside CCTV, reversing cameras and audible warning, nearside sensors and audible warning and class V and class VI mirrors.

However, supporting its status as a CLOCS champion, the company has this year put its latest safety-optimised vehicles on the road. The three vehicles feature factory-fitted safety features, deliver significantly improved driver vision and include low-profile safety guards to provide additional protection for cyclists and pedestrians.

A Volvo FL818 skip truck and DAF FA LF220 skip loader feature a lowered driving position with the nearside lower door having been fully glazed to increase drivers’ direct vision of other road users. Additionally, a MAN TGM BB skip loader is fitted with lower suspension to lower cab height, again to increase a driver’s vision.

The next vehicle to be trialled by the company will be the new Mercedes-Benz Econic skip truck. O’Donovan Waste Disposal claims to be the first fleet in the country to take delivery of the truck, which features a unique low-entry cab giving unimpeded cross-cab vision with the driver at the same level as pedestrians and cyclists.

Reducing collisions with cyclists

Construction HGVs are disproportionately represented in cyclist fatalities. O’Donovan is keen for her company to play a part in reducing incidents.

“Despite being a relatively small player in an ever-increasing field, we continue to make substantial investments in our fleet to raise our industry’s safety standards on London’s roads,” she says. “By working with the manufacturers I have been able to determine the best-in-class for driver vision and the new trucks clearly demonstrate this. I will gather driver feedback, but we could be seeing the birth of a generation of new-look commercial vehicles.

“The industry loves a truck that has been on steroids, but changes in the streetscape in London mean we cannot cope with such vehicles any more. However, drivers love a big truck so the cultural change will be the big challenge.

“Working with CLOCS has helped us to make sure that we’re doing the maximum we can through equipment and training to minimise risk to cyclists and other vulnerable road users. The standard sets clear objectives to operate our logistics safely and is easy to understand and implement. We have made vehicle and driver safety a cornerstone of our business.

She adds: “Logistics and scheduling is critical. A decade ago, a skip driver could do 10-12 jobs a day. Now it is half that due to congestion. Ensuring journeys are planned and the most efficient and safest route is driven is key to protecting the environment, profitability and keeping clients satisfied. Ensuring that we provide our drivers with an in-depth understanding of how to make sure they drive safely using the most advanced safety-equipped vehicles means our drivers are more confident in dealing with the challenges of driving on ever-more congested roads.”

O’Donovan believes it is a challenge that vehicle manufacturers must accept and focus on by incorporating safety-related technology on the production line.

She explains: “Operators cannot be expected to pay £100,000 for a vehicle and then retrofit features. Vehicle manufacturers must design and produce vehicles for both urban and rural use. The vehicle requirements of a London-based operator are different to those of an operator whose vehicles travel the Yorkshire Dales.”

The company’s vehicle longevity is put down to excellent driver retention as well as a robust in-house vehicle operation led by group transport manager Shane Brown and comprising two transport managers, an auditor and a 10-strong team of workshop mechanics. Daily defect checks, six-weekly regulatory inspections and comprehensive audits are paramount to minimising vehicle downtime.

urthermore, a couple of older trucks are retained as spares.

O’Donovan says: “Our work is not contracted so we are reliant on customers ordering from us and they want immediate support. Planning maintenance while being aware of business schedules is the trick. Compliance is essential so we plan six months ahead to ensure we can cope. 

“There are so many rogue operators with vehicles not up to scratch that give our industry a bad name and we need to rectify that. Someone must lead and I’m prepared to do that.”

Investment critical to keep gold standard

Critical for O’Donovan Waste Disposal – and its FORS gold accreditation which is based on lawfulness, safety, efficiency and environmental protection – is its focus on  delivering ongoing improvements. 

In the past 12 months the business, one of the few independent companies to hold the gold standard, has invested in:
- A bespoke telematics-based driver behaviour system into each of its vehicles.
- New lorries, with advanced safety features designed specifically to provide added protection for vulnerable road users, like cyclists.
- Its own Driver CPC training, which is  delivered to its drivers and is available to the waste industry as a whole.

In encouraging all commercial vehicle fleet operators to join the nationwide FORS scheme, O’Donovan, a member of the recently formed FORS Governance and Standards  Advisory Group, says: “Being involved has helped us continually improve our operations,  as the information and support we receive is invaluable. We are extremely proud to have achieved the gold standard for the fourth year running and I believe this is a true demonstration of our commitment to improving our driver training strategy, reducing risk to vulnerable road users and improving standards.”

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