Guide to reducing accidents

Despite the admirable work over the years by safety groups such as RoSPA and RoadSafe, evidence points to the fact that for many van fleet operators, road accidents are accepted as an unavoidable part of life.

In fact, we have first-hand knowledge of this. Not long ago, the brother of a Fleet News staff member was given a van driving job at a delivery company and – despite never having driven a commercial vehicle before – he was handed the keys to a brand new Vauxhall Vivaro.

Sure enough within a month he had pranged the van and was then threatened with the sack for having done so. The firm concerned didn’t seem to accept any kind of responsibility for the accident.

When the cost of accidents is put into perspective it makes for some frightening statistics.
Across Europe, 35,000 people a year are killed on the roads and for each death, four people are permanently disabled and 10 people injured. The cost of accidents is reckoned to be £110 billion per year.

An accident isn’t simply a prang – there are invariably a number of additional consequences. For starters a delivery may be late and valuable business lost.

The van itself will have to be repaired, which means it won’t be working for you and earning its keep. If your vans have specialist equipment in them, you can’t just phone up a rental firm for a replacement either.

Then if a staff member is injured, he or she will be off work recovering and costing your business money while you hire other (probably inexperienced) staff.

If your accident involves injury to third parties and their vehicles, another whole world of problems opens as you and your insurance company deal with claims against you.

Lastly, have you considered that your injured staff member may sue you and your company for failing to ensure their safety?

If an ambulance-chasing lawyer came knocking and asked why you hadn’t offered your driver a training session, or why you had failed to maintain your vehicles correctly, or declined to fit optional safety extras such as electronic stability control, could you provide suitable justification? Probably not.

Launching a new safety strategy in a bid to reduce accidents means a change of mindset first of all.

Thinking safety in every aspect of van fleet management will automatically lead on to a number of ideas that will help.

For example if you have a yard, just look at it and make a mental note of the number of areas where an accident could take place – a dodgy pile of crates that could fall on someone, a patch of oil that could slip someone up and cause a back injury.

Better safety = fewer accidents:

Key areas to consider

Optional extras – to buy or not to buy?

Bulkheads Ensure that your vans have them fitted to stop cargo in the rear flying forwards and hurting driver and passengers in the event of an accident.

Most panel vans nowadays have bulkheads fitted as standard, but many smaller vehicles have them as a paid-for option which should not be skimped upon.

Parking sensors For around £200 per vehicle they will help avoid the problem of minor knocks and scrapes and will undoubtedly pay for themselves over and over again during the life of the vehicle.

It is worth reminding drivers though that they only work at ground level and won’t detect such objects as overhanging garage doors.

ESC By far the most important option to choose in the view of Fleet Van is electronic stability control (ESC).

This system has been dubbed the most important safety invention since the seatbelt and despite the fact that it will become law on all vans from 2014, most manufacturers still list it as a paid-for option.

Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Iveco include it as standard.

If you buy from other manufacturers we recommend strongly that you negotiate to get it included.

The wonderful thing about ESC – a system which works to correct sideways skids – is that it works without any input whatsoever from the driver.

We’d also recommend sending your drivers on a course to learn how to use ABS brakes, for anecdotal evidence suggests that most drivers don’t understand what they do and how they should be used in an emergency.

The problem with added extras that improve safety is that you will never be able to quantify them. For example if you pay £400 extra for ESC on a vehicle and it prevents a driver from having an accident that would have cost £2,000, you are effectively saving £1,600. But a driver is hardly likely to rush in and tell you that he nearly pranged his vehicle. Therefore it is important before embarking on a new accident reduction strategy to actually measure your fleet’s crash rates before taking measures.

If you are saving money when the bigger picture emerges a year or two later, you can confidently answer any questions from top management about why the unit cost of vehicles is apparently more it used to be.

Accidents not only occur on the roads, but in yards and other delivery points too. If drivers injure themselves while loading their vans, they could be off work for weeks, leaving you short of staff.

The maximum recommended weight for anyone to carry at work is 25kg for a male and 15kg for a woman. If your business involves heavier loads, then consider fitting a hoist, such as those offered by Penny Hydraulics. These are bolted on to the vehicle and fold away neatly when not in use

With service intervals nudging 25,000 miles in some cases, there has never been a more important time to focus on van maintenance. While servicing schedules may be this long, crucial safety items such as brakes are likely to need attention before then.

With some vans being used by several people, the tendency is for drivers to assume someone else will check on safety items so it’s important that every driver completes a ‘walk-round’ safety check before getting in the van. Get them to complete a form and carry out spot checks to ensure the inspections are being done.

Tyres should be given a visual check every day and a proper inflation check each week as under-inflation could make the vehicle unstable and so cause a crash.
Brakes should also be given a visual check weekly and any problems reported to the fleet manager for attention.

Driver training sessions such as those offered under the SAFED scheme are invaluable, but don’t expect miracles. Although the one-day courses will teach your drivers to operate more safely and more fuel-efficiently, you need to change your drivers’ mindset for complete success – and that won’t happen after just one training session. Consider regular follow-up courses and tackle driver culture through elearning and coaching.

Obeying the law
The obvious way to reduce accidents is by making sure that your drivers stick to the law and don’t indulge in such practices as speeding and talking on mobile phones while on the road.

As you can’t actually see your drivers most of the time, this may be easier said than done, but at the very least you should produce a drivers’ handbook outlining what you expect from your drivers and the consequences of failing to come up to your expectations.

One way of incentivising staff is by making a chart showing which drivers suffer the fewest accidents. At the end of the year there should be a prize or prizes so that they have a goal to aim for.

If that prize is big enough, just watch your accident rates fall.

If you have problems with erratic and dangerous drivers on your fleet, one good way of tackling the issue is by installing a telematics system. There are many different ones on the market which will give you any amount of information about your staff when they are out on the roads and will pick up speed-ing, excessive cornering and heavy braking.

If drivers baulk at having a ‘spy in the cab’, you may point out to them that it is your duty to protect them on the roads. And the vans are a company asset that need to be lookd after. Involve drivers from the start and they will accept it.

Evidence from telematics firms suggests that fleets which use telematics will see massive savings in costs through having fewer accidents.

Drink and drugs
If you are over 50 you probably count drink-driving as a bigger problem than drug-driving, but drugs is a growing problem in the workplace among younger people.

Cannabis, amphetamines and cocaine are increasingly used and stay in the bloodstream to affect driving performance days after they were taken. Whatever drug has been used, all are illegal and can cause accidents in exactly the same way as alcohol – and efforts must be made to clamp down on such practices.

An RAC survey of more than 1,000 people found a rise from 5% to 9% among 17-24 year olds who admitted to driving under the influence of illegal drugs during the last year. The research follows hot on the heels of a Government announcement that drug driving will be tackled and police will be given roadside “drugalysers”.

The drugalyser works by analysing a saliva sample. Drivers who fail the initial roadside test will be taken to a police station and tested with a more sophisticated machine. Penalties include up to six months in prison and fines up to £5,000.

Tackling drug-driving at work is a difficult problem as most staff would baulk at being given a swab test before being allowed behind the wheel of their vehicles.

Some fleets introduced a drugs amnesty allowing drivers to come forward for help without fear of reprisals. After that period, anyone found using drugs faces disciplinary action.

Your drugs policy should be outlined in the driver’s handbook. You can choose to either offer support to those caught using drugs or take immediate disciplinary action.

Keep a general watch for the demeanour of staff.

Anyone abusing drugs or alcohol will probably show negative signs at work.

If you suspect a driver, a friendly private chat is the best way of finding out the truth.

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