Accurate interpretation of statistics will have a beneficial impact in areas such as road safety, sustainability, compliance and profitability. David Williams reports on behalf of Driving for Better Business (DfBB)
Benchmarking – measuring, recording and acting on the vital statistics of Britain’s fleets – is the next big step towards improving road safety, sustainability, compliance and profitability. And it’s long overdue.
That’s the view of a leading panel of transport experts convened to pioneer a major new online benchmarking process, aimed at revolutionising the way professionals analyse their own – and other organisations’ – performance.
Under the wing of Driving for Better Business (DfBB) and RoadSafe, in partnership with Fleet News, the Department for Transport-funded project aims to overhaul the way fleet managers, bosses, business owners and drivers measure their individual road safety and environmental performance.
The tool will, for the first time, allow organisations, large and small, to compare and contrast their achievements against others in the same sector, giving them the ammunition to dramatically improve their own performance.
Benchmarking will provide participants with important new comparative data to support internal business cases and provide valuable sources of information for their sustainability reporting programmes.
For many, the benchmarking project will be the first time they have systematically examined road safety and environmental performance in their organisation, or engaged in the systematic collection of road safety data.
“We know there are many with little understanding of where to start with collecting appropriate information, and how best to analyse and interpret it once they have it,” says Adrian Walsh, RoadSafe executive director. “This new initiative will assist these processes by providing standardised methods, through an open and easily accessible online platform.”
The benchmarking project will also be guided by DfBB’s Online Gap Analysis Tool, and a DfBB survey which revealed worrying attitudes among many businesses towards vehicle maintenance, Drive for Work policies and risk management.
Participants who have already agreed to develop the benchmarking project with RoadSafe, Fleet News and DfBB include experts from the world of health and safety, business owners, fleet operators and senior public sector administrators.
The ‘Practitioner Group’ panel will include those seeking to jump-start their own internal and external benchmarking processes, to help guide the development processes.
Advisor Tavid Dobson, who has a wealth of benchmarking experience as lead safety management systems specialist with the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), says: “This project gives a massive opportunity to start looking at data in a new, detailed way – particularly activity data. At the moment we rely on accidents happening before we learn anything. We want to get ahead of the game, generating a common standard of performance data; driver behavioural, vehicle performance, journey and fatigue-related indicators. It’s an exciting opportunity with the potential to fundamentally change how the transport industry views and acts on road safety data.”
If it seems odd that a rail safety expert should be contributing to road safety benchmarking, think again. Between 2009 and 2019 there were 20 workforce fatalities in the UK rail industry. Half occurred on the road and Dobson says that from 30%-to-50% of UK road fatalities may involve someone using road transport for work purposes.
One of the first tasks facing the new panel is to formalise a benchmarking roadmap. It is anticipated that the panel will be finalised this month, while trade associations and other business bodies will become involved, followed by further promotion of DfBB’s Online Gap Analysis Tool.
A final report outlining how and when the new benchmarking tool formally launches and operates will be published next spring. It is expected benchmarking will go live by March 2021.
“Once this is up and running,” says Simon Turner, DfBB campaign director, “participating organisations will be able to identify areas of concern and draw on the resources through the DfBB programme, to make changes that will radically improve their road safety performance. This has the potential to take sustainability, staff wellbeing, compliance and profitability in a totally new direction.”
Dobson, bringing his experience of exemplary safety on Britain’s railways, is visionary about how the benchmarking tool will evolve:
“I see it shaping up as a data set, which users can lay over with any telematics system specification,” he says. “The standard would set out reporting requirements that can be applied to the supply chain to submit benchmarking information on a regular basis. Analysis from this information could be transformative in helping to manage occupational road risk.”
The rail industry is, says Dobson, “very good” at co-operating on data collection and acting on risk analysis. Now the wider UK industry which uses road vehicles and the road transport industry has the opportunity to do the same.
“There is so much road data out there. If we utilise it to inform management decisions and risk controls, we reduce the risk of future unwanted events occurring. It all starts with collecting and sharing data”
Tavid Dobson, lead safety management systems specialist with the Rail Safety and Standards Board
First, he says, cultural hurdles must be overcome, adding: “There is still a lack of general awareness across many business sectors that road risk is even a significant one. In some cases, this may present a big cultural challenge.”
Is the timescale achievable? “I’m hoping we will begin to see change within three-to-five years,” says Dobson. “The prize is better road safety for the workforce and businesses. But it will be dependent on effective collaboration and good leadership, the biggest driver of all.”
The views of project participants
Critical asset supply and maintenance company JLA has around 450 engineers on the road in light commercial vehicles and around 150 company cars. Its group fleet manager Anthony Marcou says: “The only real benchmarking I have done is around accidents. If we’re talking about wider benchmarking, then I’ve not seen much of that done in the industry. So, it’s long overdue. I would like to work with more fleet managers to understand where they’re at, so we can all work together towards the same goals and over a wide range of indexes. After all, we’re all aiming to keep driving safe and cut our costs and be on the same sort of road when it comes to sustainability.”
If anyone has the detailed statistics to kickstart benchmarking, it’s Rebecca Hall, co-founder of the Church Fenton, Yorkshire-based logistics firm JHMC, and sister fleet management firm HH Driveright. Not only does JHMC have 700 vans; HH Driveright is responsible for – among other clients – 11,500 of Amazon’s vans, running its telemetry to monitor accidents, speeding, time-keeping, training, vehicle checks and more. Hall says: “My business partners, James (my husband), Ian Hewitt and I are passionate about road safety and improvement. Many firms are over-focused on customer metrics, overlooking driver, vehicle and other crucial performance metrics that count towards safety. We’re changing that. Formal benchmarking can only speed this up.”
Working for the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, as logistics and waste manager, Sally Yates runs 600 salary sacrifice and business-only cars. Potentially any one of 6,500 staff can use the business-only cars and – excluding recently-bought telemetry-equipped vehicles – the scheme has relied on paper-based records. This has made tracking performance, not to mention benchmarking, challenging. “This is why I am taking part in this benchmarking process,” says Yates, who is based at Scunthorpe General Hospital. “We are moving to telematics, so speaking to others who have an established benchmarking process will help me find the best way of analysing our fleet.
"It will be great to analyse lease, pool and grey fleet statistics to ensure we maintain our fleet’s efficiency and contribute to reducing our carbon footprint and the aim of becoming a net zero trust. Being involved in this project will help me achieve my aims.”
Sally Yates, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust