Recently-released Government stati-stics revealed that, for the first time in nearly a decade, the number of deaths on UK roads increased last year, reinforcing the need for van operators to have robust processes to manage their operational road risk.
It’s against this background that FTA’s Van Excellence programme sought the views of operators on how they minimised risk, what kind of changes they’d made and, crucially, what had produced the best results.
Not surprisingly, all respondents had pro-cesses to record their on-road collisions with most citing well-established procedures to capture the facts around the incident, including driver interviews.
Less encouragingly, however, was that only around 20% had processes to identify near misses and even then there was concern that the level of reporting was patchy.
Despite the large number of respondents admitting to having little knowledge of how many near misses their LCV fleet was involved in, there is wide acceptance that the analysis of this information can be invaluable in identifying risk hot-spots whether these be specific geographical locations, types of journey or even individual drivers.
One fleet manager, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted: “In hindsight we should have identified an unsafe practice across a number of our drivers which, although poor road design contributed, could have averted a serious life-changing collision.”
Why is road risk management so important?
The obvious (and correct) answer is that it is simply unacceptable to expose employees, colleagues and members of the public to the risk of death or injury as a result of your business’s activities.
And, if that wasn’t enough on it’s own, the cost impact of collisions must surely get the attention of any business in these difficult times.
Last month’s article looked at the cost of having vans off the road for repair etc. and concluded that many businesses didn’t know the financial impact or greatly under-estimated it. It would seem the same is true with the real cost of collisions.
Research by HSE during the 1990s identified that the below the water line ‘iceberg’ costs can be eight to 36 times greater than those visible ‘above the water’.
There has since been much debate about the reality of these figures, but even if the figure is ‘just’ three to four times more than the ‘above the water’ costs, it could have a significant effect on finances as these costs come straight off the bottom line.
Let’s say, for example, that your business’s return on sale is 5% and your real collision costs last year were £50,000.To recoup those costs you’d need to generate a further £1 million of sales. A few years ago, Nestle worked out that it needed to sell an extra 235 million Kit-Kats to cover its
Europe-wide collision costs.
What can be done to better manage road risk?
As always, the starting point is to measure and analyse. Look at your drivers’ working days and identify the areas of risk.
A major civil engineering company identified that the most dangerous thing its high-voltage jointers did was driving the van to and from the job, not working with 120,000 volts.
Requiring drivers to report accidents and, importantly, near misses is crucial. Several respondents talked about the benefits of creating a ‘blame-free’ culture to encourage a more open dialogue with drivers.
The use of schemes to reward drivers for good behaviours while penalising those involved with blameworthy incidents was also found to be helpful, provided systems were strong enough to identify non-reported incidents.
More and more operators are turning to telematics to help: more than half of our survey respondents are using the technology on at least part of their fleet.
Most were favourable when asked about their experience although the impact of data overload and, as one respondent put it, the extra workload in disciplinaries were (sadly) an unforeseen side effect.
Speed limiters, rev limiters, ‘Well Driven?’ (and similar) schemes and reversing sensors are all cost-effective measures, with speed and rev limiting also having significant fuel economy benefits.
The use of driver training and comprehensive risk assessments can be beneficial.
Kevin Shepherd runs more than 500 vans for Southern Water and reports “significant improvements in our road risk profile have been achieved by better understanding the work our drivers undertake and then putting together the right driver training package”.
“We work in a high-risk industry,” says Steve Haigh, group transport manager at Lexia
Solutions. “We understand the risks inherent in our demolition and asbestos removal businesses, but we also recognise the significant risks our drivers deal with each day getting too and from their jobs. It’s important to us that we encourage the correct behaviours and have found the use of driver training and risk assessments to be very useful.”
The impact of any collision can be life changing. It can have serious implications to your business’s finances and to its reputation. The stress and mental anguish cannot be underplayed and, if culpable, the threat of legal proceedings can hang over individuals for years.
There are many tried and tested ways of measuring, managing and reducing occupational road risk – can you afford not to take it seriously?
By Mark Cartwright, head of LCVs, FTA