Fleet News

Opinion: too many firms on safety fence

THE Department for Transport has launched a new report aimed at creating standard accident procedures for fleets to follow. But, argues Jeremy Hay, director of Risk Answers, the challenge is getting fleets to take safety seriously in the first place.

'We just can't afford it.' This refrain is uttered at least once a day in every company in the country and it is the strangest expression in the language of business, closely followed in the vocabulary by: 'We must reduce costs'.

I have heard this comment when signing a company up to a £1,000 spend for a fleet risk assessment – with a net return of 30% in cost savings. Unfortunately, too many bosses confuse spending money with improving business efficiency.

They forget the improvement in business efficiency that the fleet manager and a risk audit brings. An exercise we undertook for a company saved them £128,000 on mobile phone costs – not a bad return for a week's work by the fleet manager and us. The audit also put the company on a firm footing in relation to compliance with the numerous Acts of Parliament that can impact on at-work driving.

But many businesses are not always interested in the legal audit trail and the saving of lives. Did I really just write that businesses are not interested in saving lives? They would say they are – but if that is true, how come so few companies in the UK have undertaken any form of at-work driver education and how come less than 5% have completed a proper risk audit assessment?

The result is that high-mileage company car driving is the second most dangerous occupation.

Years ago in the construction industry death rates were dramatically cut by the joint efforts of the Health and Safety Executive and the companies themselves putting in place good practice. The same effort is now starting to happen in fleet driving – but not fast enough for the 39,390 people killed or seriously injured on the UK's roads last year. Given the choice of spending some money on a safety audit or running the risk of a £100,000-plus legal case, some negative PR and the chance that a manager or two may go to prison, it is clear that the majority of companies are sitting on the fence.

In May, a company manager at a Felixstowe-based transport firm was jailed for four years after being convicted of manslaughter for failing to prevent his drivers working excessive hours.

One of the company's drivers, who was also jailed for four years, had been involved in a fatal road accident after the court heard he had been working for about 20 hours and had little time for 'quality sleep'.

One can only imagine the devastating impact such a tragedy had on the family of the person killed, on the two people jailed, their families and the company. In most companies, fleet is the second-largest budget after staff costs and fleet managers control their cost and add value more than other areas. Other areas of business continue to waste money. Having spent a lot of time in organisations as employee and consultant there are always costs that are 'hidden' and could easily be reduced.

Look at the cost of the annual audit – it will more than match the expenditure of a fleet department in a large company. Look at the price of recruitment where companies will pay up to £50,000 as a recruitment fee to a prominent big named recruiter for one person.

Businesses need to work on priorities. Instead of cutting costs they should look to add efficiency.

As Fleet News has highlighted in recent weeks with its 'Get Trained' campaign, there are plenty of fleet managers who still need training, but it costs money. However, the benefits for the company are huge. A good fleet manager will save another £100 per car every year if he or she has the resource and the time.

Keep the fleet manager under the financial cosh and the results will never be as good in the long run. Business can afford it – you just need to put fleet managers and risk first. It may even save a life.'

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