It’s not often that Logistics Europe gets the chance to carry a real shock-horror story, but here’s one. Today, more than 200 people will have been injured on Britain’s roads as a result of ‘ at-work driving’ – using a car or van as part of their job. It’s the same every working day, adding up to more than 70,000 injuries a year. There are no comparable Europewide statistics, but given that Britain actually has a middling-to-good road safety record in comparison with its continental neighbours, that 70,000 figure can probably be factored up to around half a million for the whole of the EU. In fact, if you drive around 25,000 miles a year in your work – and there are plenty who do more than that – you stand as much chance of being killed as does an employee in the hazardous mining and quarrying industries. Again, you can adjust that figure up or down by a few thousand miles depending in which European country you’re doing your driving.
A hidden epidemic
The UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) calls deaths and injuries from occupational road risk (ORR) a ‘ hidden epidemic’. It points out that employers owe a duty of care to its employees who drive for work-related reasons. The issue is especially pressing for the logistics business, given that much of the work involves driving from one place to another.
The dangers of getting it wrong are growing all the time. Remember Stephen Bowles and his sister Julie? Probably not. They were directors of a haulage company. Four years ago, they received suspended prison sentences when they were convicted of corporate manslaughter. Their driver, who was jailed, caused a seven-vehicle pile up on the M25 when he fell asleep at the wheel. The Bowles were accused of being grossly negligent by allowing their driver to spend 60 hours a week on the road so that he became ‘dangerously exhausted’. Since then, campaigners such as the Centre for Corporate Responsibility have been pressing the UK government to take an even more robust approach to companies responsible for deaths.
It’s easy to see how the problems occur in the pressure cooker that is modern business. In lean delayered organisations which are working on just-intime principles, there may be temptations to increase driving hours. RoSPA urges firms to adopt a threepronged approach to the issue – safe vehicles, safe drivers and safe journeys. While many companies manage vehicle safety adequately, there is less focus on ensuring safe drivers and journeys. For example, more drivers may need defensive driving courses. And, critically, companies need to review whether all road journeys are necessary and, if they’re not, whether they could be made by different routes or times of day to avoid congestion periods or accident black spots.
Companies with a good safety record tend to be those which have developed a proactive rather than a reactive approach to managing risks from whatever source they may arise. They attach the same importance to achieving high standards of safety as to other key business objectives such as sales or profitability. So what should you do? The RAC suggests firms should adopt a three-stage management process for tackling the issue. First, carry out a safety audit to examine how road transport management operates in the business, which systems are in place and what’s needed to meet duty of care responsibilities. Second, develop a strategy to reduce accidents. Finally, prepare and implement an action plan and measure the effectiveness of the changes.
The road haulage industry has a special part to play. The industry, EC and national governments all need to do more to crack down on cowboy hauliers. Statistics show that an illegally operated HGV is twice as likely to have at least one dangerous roadworthiness defect as a legally operated vehicle. Meanwhile, even ethical hauliers can do more to improve safety. Every haulier should carry out a risk assessment to identify potential hazards. It should prepare a health and safety policy which addresses its own unique risk profile. It should communicate the policy to staff and train then in implementing it. And it should ensure that accident and incident investigations are always thoroughly carried out and signed off by senior managers. In most European countries, new road building will lag behind increases in traffic volumes in the next few years. That makes the issue of ORR even more urgent. Otherwise even more businesses will be driven crazy.