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Fleets in focus: Environmental Essentials

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Switching fuel cards and bringing driver training in-house will help Philippa Maher reduce fleet overheads. It’s a proactive approach, she tells Sarah Tooze

Asbestos management and training consultants Environmental Essentials will save an estimated £80,000 this year thanks to HR manager Philippa Maher taking responsibility for its fleet strategy.

Most of the savings will come from switching fuel card providers, adding hybrids/lower emission vehicles to the fleet, bringing driver training in-house and introducing driving style telematics. Maher took responsibility for the fleet two years ago.

“We needed to become more proactive rather than just managing the day-to-day side, like arranging for vehicles to go in for a service or dealing with a vehicle breakdown,” she says.

“Fleet was something I looked at in terms of the payroll element of HR, but it was quite clear we could link the two together and develop strategies to bring the cost down and reduce risk.”

Environmental Essentials employs 165 people and its fleet of 95 vehicles is the second-biggest cost to the business after wages, at about £300,000 in 2011/2012. The fleet has almost doubled since Maher has been managing it, as the business has grown.

She spends about 60% of her time on HR and 40% on fleet, but it can fluctuate, depending on the priority at the time. When P11Ds are due, for example, the HR and fleet functions are intrinsically linked.

P11D has historically been “a nightmare”, according to Maher, as drivers frequently swap vehicles. Trainees aren’t entitled to a company vehicle until they are a qualified surveyor, but they need to go out to sites as part of their training. This can mean they are in hire vehicles or pool cars for six months.

The admin burden has eased this year thanks to introducing fleet software, Fleet Check, which allows Maher to run reports of vehicle movements. Environmental Essentials’ fleet management provider, Adept Vehicle Management, recommended using Fleet Check.

Fleet would take up considerably more of her time were it not for Adept, says Maher. Its role includes sourcing vehicles, arranging vehicle livery, handling maintenance bookings, driver licence checking and general fleet consultancy.

“Adept is locally based and really understands our business and how quickly things can change, how quickly we can bring people in,” says Maher.

She meets Mark Pedley from Adept twice a month, as well as having quarterly meetings with Environmental Essentials’ operations director and health and safety manager.

Adept’s knowledge and experience has been crucial in building her fleet skills, assisted by attending Brake seminars.

Maher thinks fleet sits well with HR because both are about managing processes and interactions with people. “It’s about educating drivers about their responsibilities and their attitudes towards the vehicles,” she says.

Maher has made her expectations about the cleanliness and condition of vehicles clear through a new driver handbook. She has also introduced a monthly vehicle checklist and drivers have to complete and sign condition checks when they take a lab van (see panel, right) or a pool vehicle.

Drivers have been given tyre depth gauges. “There’s no point asking drivers to check the tyres are fine if we’ve not given them the tools to do it,” Maher says. Spot checks are being incorporated into health and safety site audits.

Driving licences are checked at the recruitment stage and Maher creates a risk profile for drivers based on how long they have been driving, their age, and the number of endorsements on their licence.

Each new starter also does an online driver training assessment to see if there are any areas that need working on.

“We send them out with an advanced driving instructor to look at any issues we’ve identified as result of the recruitment process or an
incident,” Maher says.

I’m about to go on a course to become a driving assessor so we can do that internally as well.

“The plan is that during induction week I will take every new starter out for a specified amount of time, probably 45 minutes or so, to assess their driving style and give them some feedback on what they can look at.”
Young drivers are a particular risk for the business. More than a third (38%) of drivers are under 25 and may go from passing their test to doing 25,000 miles a year.
Maher is also focused on incident reduction because the fleet’s
insurance premiums rose 200% last year due to low speed rear-end shunts, which were mainly at-fault. Almost £100,000 worth of third-party injury claims were for whiplash.
“We’re working on bringing the risk of those incidents down, so if they’re in slow traffic they leave enough distance,” Maher says.

When an incident is reported, her first step is to check the telematics data (all fleet vehicles, including grey fleet, are fitted with telematics) and then to see how many endorsements a driver has on their licence.

She then meets the driver to go through the details of the incident.

Quartix’s telematics device was originally introduced for three reasons: employee security (to check on their whereabouts as they can be at domestic or commercial properties), payroll processing (making sure that overtime is correct) and mileage calculations (drivers receive a weekly report and simply highlight their business mileage).

However, Maher decided to add functionality earlier this year to monitor driving style, such as harsh braking and acceleration, with a view to getting a reduction in the insurance premium at renewal.

Maher reviews a league table of driving style on a quarterly basis and she works with any drivers that need to improve.

“It does have a good impact,” she says. “The people we’ve spoken to have dropped right down the league table.”

Environmental Essentials persuaded grey fleet drivers to have telematics fitted on the basis of ensuring overtime payments and mileage reimbursements were accurate and for security reasons.

“We explained to them that it’s not a spying device,” Maher says. “No one sits with it up on the screen watching the dots move around, we’re too busy to do that.”

Her next step is to introduce more pool vehicles rather than relying on daily rental so that all drives are in a vehicle that is being tracked.
The priority is to “continue to drive fleet costs down where we can”.

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