FORS, CLOCS, Van Excellence, Earned Recognition: operators of vans and trucks have myriad standards they can sign up to, all promising to improve their business efficiencies and compliance. Some are even a prerequisite for business tenders.
But the costs can quickly add up, so which one(s) should you opt for? Often the choice comes down to historic loyalties, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) Van Excellence for example, or area of operation, such as the Construction, Logistics and Community Safety (CLOCS) scheme in London.
Sitting across them all is the O-licence, the basic standard of operation to which all truck, bus and coach fleets must adhere.
Biggest among the accreditation schemes is FORS, the Freight Operator Recognition Scheme.
“We’ve now got almost 5,000 businesses accredited compared with 2,700 in 2014/15,” says FORS director John Hix.
The scheme’s net is widening and now includes van, bus, coach and even motorcycle courier fleets as well as trucks. However, the word ‘fleet’ may be a slight misnomer. The programme embraces firms with 10 vehicles or fewer as well as those with considerably more.
FORS is not attempting to replace the O-licence system, Hix stresses, despite periodic accusations to the contrary. FORS seeks to build on the O-licence’s basic standard by taking operators beyond minimum industry requirements.
“What we do is lay out the sort of policies and procedures a professional fleet should adhere to,” Hix says.
In some cases, a van fleet may end up in the lap of a company secretary, who will not be managing it full-time because he or she has other responsibilities. “In those circumstances FORS can give them a useful framework which shows how a fleet should be run,” says Hix.
FORS has its roots in a commercial vehicle safety and compliance programme originally developed by Transport for London (TfL) and introduced in the capital 11 years ago.
Becoming the benchmark
Six years later, TfL decided to let it as a concession to a partnership made up of global infrastructure services giant AECOM, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and fleet training specialist Fleet Source. From this point, FORS began to grow as a UK-wide standard.
Introduced at around the same time, GSAG – the FORS Governance and Standards Advisory Group – was set up to provide an objective view of future strategy, plus advice and guidance.
Embracing a number of operators with a commitment to FORS – the group includes FM Conway, DHL, O’Donovan Waste Disposal and UPS – GSAG plays no part in the day-to-day running of FORS. It also includes representatives from industry bodies and government agencies including the Institute of Road Transport Engineers, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)and Highways England.
The requirements FORS-accredited fleets have to meet are set out in a comprehensive document which can be downloaded from the FORS website.
Bronze is the entry-level and obliges members to have written policies in place governing everything from load safety and tyre management to driving standards and staff induction. All FORS documentation has to be reviewed at least every 12 months, or more frequently if there have been changes in legislation or to the member’s working practices.
Safety is a top priority, with mandatory checks on all drivers’ licences – and on their eyesight – every six months.
Risk assessments must be carried out in areas such as manual handling and the coupling and uncoupling of trailers, and fleets are expected to ensure daily walk-around inspections are carried out by drivers before vehicles are used.
The inspections should include wheels and tyres, lights, mirrors and glass. Any defects should be recorded and reported, and action taken to rectify them. If they affect roadworthiness then they should be fixed before the vehicle is allowed back on the highway.
Everything grossing at more than 3.5 tonnes must be fitted with side under-run protection and Class V and VI close-proximity mirrors unless exemption can be claimed, as well as blind spot warning signage.
Hand-held mobile phones should never be used by drivers, and hands-free devices should only be allowed under tightly-delineated conditions.
Progression to the Silver and Gold standards imposes tougher obligations.
Silver accreditation includes, for example, the installation of nearside blind spot cameras on all trucks plus an audible warning system that alerts other road users to left-turn and reversing manoeuvres. It also obliges operators to carry out a noise impact assessment with a view to implementing reduction measures if required, especially so far as vehicles and the equipment fitted to them are concerned.
Gold includes an evaluation of the use of ultra-low and zero-emission vehicles as well as a close look at the advantages of load consolidation to cut the number of journeys.
Among the 300 or so fleets which can claim to benefit from FORS Gold accreditation (1,345, businesses are Silver-accredited) is Essex-based tanker operator New Era Fuels. Its activities include the delivery of domestic heating oil.
Measures it has taken under the Gold standard have contributed to a 40% cut in fuel consumption across its 36-strong fleet, it reports.
“We’ve ensured all our drivers are trained not to idle their engines unnecessarily and this, combined with a robust tyre management policy, has seen our emissions fall sharply and our annual fuel costs drop significantly,” chief executive officer Reg Geggus says.
All its drivers undertake FORS online eLearning training each year to ensure they know how to work as safely and efficiently as possible and the entire New Era fleet has been upgraded to Euro VI.
Training is vital
A key advantage of FORS membership is the training it provides, says Hix. “We subsidise a lot of it,” he adds.
One of its most successful initiatives is an online security and counter-terrorism module, which has been completed by more than 100,000 people.
Participants learn the importance of vehicle security and measures that can be introduced to protect drivers and their vans and trucks against theft and hijacking. They are also given advice on how to report suspicious behaviour and activities.
New Era says a number of its commercial customers, including civil engineers such as Galldris Construction and McGee, have cited Gold accreditation as a factor in their decision to work with the company, so FORS can bring financial advantages too.
It is also increasingly becoming a requirement in tender documents, as is the CLOCS standard for businesses that send vans and trucks on to construction sites.
It is a trend that concerns James Firth, head of road freight regulation policy at the FTA, especially when such conditions are applied to O-licence holders.
The O-licence and the regulations that surround it are enshrined in law, he points out, and any changes to the rules have to be agreed by legislators.
But, that is not the case with independent standards, he adds.
“They can be altered on a whim,” he contends; with commercial implications for businesses that may struggle to comply.
FORS and CLOCS stress any changes made to their standards are only made after considerable thought and discussion.
In addition, compliance with the FORS Silver standard means fleets are compliant with CLOCS.
To further its aim of achieving zero collisions, CLOCS embraces stakeholders such as construction site operators.
Sites involved with the programme are obliged to carry out gate checks to ensure trucks entering meet CLOCS. The scheme is intended to be a two-way street, however.
Compliance-focused Moriarty Haulage is a contractor to the likes of Cemex and Hanson. It is the holder of Gold accreditation from FORS and is a CLOCS champion.
“The CLOCS Vox driver app is being trialled to give drivers a voice,” says CLOCS project director, Derek Rees. “The idea is to collect, aggregate and anonymise driver ratings of construction site arrangements – route instructions, gate teams, site layout and ground conditions – so site managers get weekly anonymised reports highlighting areas for praise or improvement.”
Rees spells out why programmes such as FORS and CLOCS are so essential.
“Five hundred pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are killed or seriously injured (KSI) every year in collisions with trucks, mostly from the construction sector,” he says.
“Of these, 120 either die instantly or within 30 days of the incident. The average insurance pay-out for those seriously injured is £2m,” he adds.
“To all this should be added the trauma suffered by the families of those affected, by witnesses, and by the truck driver, who may be off work for the next six months.”
Dependent on the circumstances, the driver may, of course, face a criminal prosecution; causing death by dangerous driving is an extremely serious offence. Then there is the damage to the truck fleet’s reputation to consider, and the implications for its O-licence.
But Rees insists that implementing CLOCS can mitigate all these risks, with one stakeholder witnessing a 47% reduction in collisions.
Essex-based contractor Mulalley is FORS Gold accredited and became a CLOCS Champion in 2016. It soon reaped the benefits, says director Eamon O’Malley.
“The number of collisions we were involved in reduced by a third in 2017,” he says.
Rees suggests that the 500 KSIs could easily soar to 2,000 as an unintended consequence of city authorities encouraging more people to walk and cycle rather than drive to their destinations.
“That’s why Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) launched CLOCS a few weeks ago,” he says.
Turning to another standard, Van Excellence targets light commercial fleets. It was devised by the FTA to support van operators of all sizes and in all sectors of industry and commerce.
Van Excellence has also spawned Truck Excellence, which has 13 members and is aligned to the DVSA’s Earned Recognition audit standards. It is also recognised by the DVSA.
Van Excellence centres around a code of practice drawn up by the FTA in conjunction with a number of leading light commercial fleets. In addition, the association offers the Van Excellence Audit, which allows any business to be independently audited against a set of standards covering areas such as fitness to drive, towing, maintenance, pre-use vehicle checks, speed management and record retention.
Ninety-one were accredited this year, taking the total membership to 130.
The FTA has also created the Van Policy Working Group which is made up of 41 prominent players in the sector. It will discuss the key policy and compliance issues facing light commercial users and seek to ignite change in the sector by getting its message across to government, regulators and other stakeholders, according to FTA director of UK policy, Elizabeth de Jong.
“Van drivers and operators provide a vital service to the UK economy. Their contributions must be valued and their concerns and hopes for the future heard and acted upon,” she states.
The FTA’s light commercial activities embrace other areas, and has forged links with CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably).
A high percentage of van drivers are male, and suicide is now the biggest cause of death among men under 45. CALM offers support to men of all ages who are struggling with their mental wellbeing and pushes for changes in policy so suicides can be averted.
It aims to challenge a culture that prevents men from seeking help when they need it.
Useful and realistic
The involvement of prominent van fleets suggests that, as with FORS and CLOCS, changes to the Van Excellence code would not be made without extensive discussions. One initiative introduced by Van Excellence is the Van Excellence Driver Certificate of Competence. It has been trialled by AAH Pharmaceuticals, which has a van fleet almost 1,000-strong.
“The training is appealing because it was developed by the FTA and major industry operators, so it is useful and realistic,” says AAH distribution services manager Martine Smith. “It’s not a course from a textbook. Drivers are tested with a 30-question multiple-choice paper. We’ve tailored the training to include some of our own procedures to make it engaging and interactive.”
The trial has been successful. All drivers passed, and now wear gold ‘Driver Ambassador’ badges.
The DVSA prompted O-licence holders to raise their game with the 2018 launch of Earned Recognition.
It requires operators to demonstrate a strong track record of compliance and adherence to standards.
To participate they have to agree to allow the agency to monitor their compliance systems remotely.
“In exchange, they may benefit from a reduced number of inconvenient and costly roadside checks and visits from enforcement officers,” the DVSA says.
KPIs (key performance indicators) the agency covers include maintenance and drivers’ hours.
Seventy-four businesses with 270 O-licences between them – 210 of which cover trucks – have now signed up to it.
“That equates to around 22,000 lorries,” the DVSA states. It does not charge for Earned Recognition membership and caused ire among rival standards scheme operators when chief executive Gareth Llewellyn told Commercial Fleet that Earned Recognition would become “the ultimate national scheme” that will “mean fewer city/regional schemes”.
Fees are levied by all of the aforementioned independent schemes.
The 2019 FORS annual subscription ranges from £420 if you run six-to-10 vehicles to £2,250 if more than 100. Special rates apply if you operated fewer than six, with £65 charged if you only run one.
CLOCS charges a flat £600 a year fee regardless of fleet size while a Van Excellence Audit will set fleets back £671.
Firth has observed the evolution of Earned Recognition closely since its official launch in April 2018. It is something the FTA welcomes, but he believes the DVSA will have to offer additional benefits to encourage more operators to climb aboard.
“Businesses that already achieve a green OCRS – Operator Compliance Risk Score – point out that their trucks aren’t stopped anyway, so they don’t always see the point of going for Earned
Recognition too,” he says.
One way of getting them to change their minds, he suggests, is to allow firms that achieve Earned Recognition to carry out annual MOT tests on their trucks using their own technicians rather than testers employed by the DVSA.
Another could be for lorries operated by Earned Recognition businesses to be deemed to have passed their MOT tests without having physically undergone one – a truly radical measure which, if implemented, could prompt fleets that have hitherto dismissed the scheme to reconsider.