Many organisations have set about reducing the number of collisions their fleet has by implementing defensive training for all their drivers, or, at least for the high-risk ones. However, the effectiveness of this type of training depends on having the right safety culture, where both drivers and their managers understand the need for improvement. All too often, companies set up isolated training programmes; the chosen employees enjoy a day away from the office, but then return to their job without significantly changing their attitudes or their driving habits.
Developing a driver safety culture
Many organisations already have a well-developed safety culture in their factories and offices, with employees taking safety seriously, in line with health and safety legislation. Following safety procedures in that context comes as second nature. However, it is much rarer for this attitude to extend to employees who make work-related journeys, even though a new guidance document entitled 'Driving at Work - Managing Work-related Road Safety' (Health and Safety Executive/Department for Transport 2003) recommends applying existing health and safety legislation to employees making road journeys on behalf of their employer (regardless of who owns the vehicle).
It can be an uphill struggle to get work-related road safety issues taken seriously, even where a good safety culture exists in other parts of a business. Important lessons can be learnt from the handful of organisations that do take the safety of their work-related drivers seriously. They have developed a working environment where there is a good balance between the safety of the drivers and the operational needs of the business. As a consequence of this, and other work-related road safety initiatives that they have implemented, they have a better road accident record. One company significantly reduced its collision rate to one every 1.8m miles over a period of seven years, representing a three-year period without a single collision.
Safety first or business first?
A question to consider when developing a driver safety culture is whether employees are allowed to drive safely, and indeed follow the safety policies and procedures which may have been implemented. The answer may appear obvious, but it is very easy for conflicts to exist because employees and their managers believe that business objectives have to be achieved at all costs.
Cutting corners can include areas affecting safety. Most companies take the well-being of their employees seriously, irrespective of the fact that it is also a statutory requirement. When it comes to meeting business objectives, they would much rather employees stay safe than take increased risks. However, they often fail to communicate this message effectively to employees - or employees fail to take the message on board.
Communicating culture change
Senior management should send out a clear message that safety is at least as important as business objectives. This must come straight down from the CEO. But how can you convince management that driving is an important safety issue that requires resourcing? Understanding the risks involved and the financial consequences is key. If the direct costs and uninsured losses associated with every collision appeared on the balance sheet, senior management would take the issue more seriously.
The best way to engage with senior management is to get fleet risk specialists to explain to them exactly what the risks are, and to spell out the implications of their current accident rate for their business. Simple analysis will highlight the costs involved and allow conservative estimates of the hidden (uninsured) costs associated with every collision. This can then be put into context, using the return on sales figure, to calculate how many sales are required to cover the cost of each collision that work-related drivers are involved in. For many businesses, especially those with poor accident rates, these figures are often stark enough for most senior managers to understand the importance of managing work-related road safety.
Once senior management is on board, the next step is to communicate to the rest of the employees why they should take work-related driver safety seriously. Persuading employees that there is a need to improve their driving is challenging and should be seen as a long-term process. One of the biggest hurdles is that employees are usually not supervised while driving, which makes it more difficult to impose safety policies and procedures than when they are in the factory or office.
Moreover, most drivers truly believe that they are good drivers. Confidence increases each time a driver commits an unsafe act that does not result in a collision. Unfortunately this may reinforce unsafe behaviour, and, over time, it can become the norm. This makes it very difficult to persuade drivers that their driving is unsafe and needs to improve.
Another related issue which is possibly a barrier to improving safety culture, is how an organisation de-briefs drivers following a collision.
De-briefs are an important part of the process, as they will often identify the root cause of an accident. However they need to be handled sensitively, especially where there has been an injury.
If they think they were to blame, employees may feel uncomfortable giving details of an incident to their line manager or a safety representative.
In these circumstances it is better to use an external specialist to investigate collisions. To support this initiative, the organisation must make it very clear that the only purpose of the de-brief is to find out the root cause of the accident, not to apportion blame. This will allow appropriate control measures to be implemented to stop a similar accident from happening again.
Work-related road risk management is not easy. If it were, more organisations would have already reduced their collision rates and improved their profitability.
It is important to use a proven process to implement change in this area, but it must be underpinned with a strong safety culture throughout the business. The development of a driver safety culture, and indeed a whole work-related road risk strategy, must be seen as an ongoing process and never as a short-term fix. Without this, any driver safety initiatives, including driver training, are unlikely to succeed.
By adopting a driver safety culture, not only can businesses increase staff safety, but, by reducing the number of accidents and the number of claims they make, they will save money on lost contracts, delayed deliveries, damaged produce, staff disruption and damage to the company's reputation.
A good test of your current on-road safety culture is to find out employees' reactions to the following statements:
- 'If an employee is involved in a collision in a moving vehicle it is definitely avoidable'.
- 'If an employee is in a stationary vehicle that is involved in a collision it is probably avoidable'.
- If an employee's parked vehicle is involved in a collision it may be avoidable.
Reactions to these statements will indicate whether employees believe that the vast majority of collisions are avoidable, regardless of who is to blame.
Despite the fact that businesses are legally responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees who use the road whilst working, a recent survey conducted by Zurich revealed that over a third (39%) of businesses said they did nothing to promote driver safety. Other findings from the survey included:
- Only 3% of businesses check their employees' driving history and their licence
- 8% use web-based driver assessment and training to ensure driver safety
- 23% put their staff through an on-road driver assessment or training course
- 41% of employers said they evaluated the suitability of cars. This suggests that they concentrate more on the safety of the car than of the driver.
But employers revealed that they were concerned about driver safety.
27% of businesses rated mobile phone use as their biggest cause for concern when their employees were driving on business, followed by driver speeding (18%) and weather conditions (18%). Driver tiredness, which Zurich estimates accounted for nearly a third (30%) of the serious motor accident claims they received from 1998-2002, was named as the biggest cause for concern by 17% of the businesses surveyed. Source: Omnibus Research December 2003.
Nearly 70 organisations are behind a new website which has been launched to raise awareness of work-related road safety and to encourage businesses to manage at-work road risk more effectively. The Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ORSA) site has been developed with the support of the Department for Transport. It provides ORSA members and others in the road safety and occupational safety communities with access to up-to-the minute information and new developments about managing occupational road risk.
ORSA brings together employers, trade unions, local authorities, police forces, safety organisations, and professional and trade associations which are determined to reduce work-related deaths and injuries on Britain's roads. It says that between 800 and 1,100 road deaths each year involve someone who was at work at the time. These include all types of road user - drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists, pedestrians and those working at the side of the road. One of the biggest problems is with company car drivers, who have 50% more accidents than those driving for domestic purposes.
ORSA states that few organisations realise what road accidents cost them.
Research into workplace accidents generally suggests that for every £1 recovered through insurance, between £8 and £36 may be lost through uninsured costs. The website stresses that management of occupational road risk should be looked upon as a business opportunity, as it can enhance a company's reputation and save money. The site also gives advice on how organisations can develop an action plan to deal with problems, and details facts and figures, the legal situation, the business case, resources and training providers.