Ten people are killed and 1,000 more are injured on Britain’s roads every day.

Ten people are killed and 1,000 more are injured on Britain’s roads every day. This, according to Road Accidents Great Britain, actually makes the UK one of the safest places in Europe. These figures would not be acceptable in any other form of industrial or transport safety. But, in spite of evidence that driving a company vehicle rates among the most hazardous of activities, managements still accept that work-related road accidents are an inevitable cost of doing business.

Three elements - people, vehicles and environment - individually or in their interactions, cause the accidents. A study of crashes in the UK indicates that human error is a contributory factor in 95% of all accidents.

There are two distinct types of error: genuine mistakes and deliberate violations. Most of those causing crashes fall into the latter category. Errors arise as a result of information-processing problems, and may be understood in relation to the cognitive function of the individual. They can be minimised by training, redesign of the human-vehicle interface, memory aids, better information and the like.

Violations have a large motivational component. They are a social phenomenon and can only be understood in a social context. They are dealt with by changing attitudes and beliefs and by improving the overall safety culture.

Vehicle crashes do not necessarily show that a company has a driving problem. They do, however, show that it has a safety problem, and a safety problem is a management problem. It follows that for any work-related road risk strategy to work successfully, it is necessary to deal with both errors and violations simultaneously, not just on an individual, personal level but also on a corporate basis.

The majority of crashes involve both substandard practices and substandard conditions, and these are only the symptoms. Behind the symptoms lie the basic causes, and behind the basic causes lie deficiencies in management.

For example, tailgating is a substandard practice; tailgating in wet weather adds in substandard conditions as a relevant factor. If we now add a basic cause, for example fatigue, where the tailgating occurs because the driver has momentarily fallen asleep, we have the potential for disaster. If it can be established that the fatigue arose from unsafe work patterns, lack of policy or other factors for which managements bear direct responsibility, the disaster will not just affect those immediately involved but the driver’s employer as well.

In 1999, two company directors were convicted of corporate manslaughter following a fatal road accident involving one of their staff. More recently, when a truck driver died on the M11, his employers were found guilty and jailed for a string of charges including breaches of health and safety regulations.

Although fleet operators tacitly accept the need to reduce road accidents, very few recognise that such matters are actually health and safety issues. All too frequently, the solution is seen in cost terms only, with outcomes that appear inconsistent and difficult to quantify.

There are some four million fleet vehicles on UK roads, but less than 10% of vehicle users receive any form of risk management or safety training from their employers, in spite of spectacular and sustainable results from those companies that do. It is not as if this is rocket science: once individuals and companies accept that road accidents are actually industrial accidents, then the implementation of a sustainable solution is viable and cost effective. Further, a risk management strategy aimed directly at the control of losses will provide a sustainable downward trend in claims frequency across an extended timeframe, and will deliver long-term cost savings across the whole spectrum of fleet operations.

The problem for many fleet operators has always been that management rarely sees the complete picture. The constituent risk functions, such as acquisition, disposal, fuel, insurance, maintenance, repairs or claims are often managed quite separately. They may even be outsourced. This means that management cannot even begin to identify the problem, let alone have standards or measurable performance benchmarks which can be expressed in quantifiable meaningful and objective terms.

Five steps
The first step is to bring all the constituent risk functions into a single focused report (safety audit). This gives management a total overview of their fleet operating costs, together with a financial forecast of their occupational road risk problem. It sets the standards against which future performance can be measured.

Step two is to identify and evaluate the risk exposures arising from existing management policies, systems and procedures.

Step three is to devise the strategy and agree the objectives. This includes developing the policies, systems and documentation needed to achieve the agreed outcomes.

Step four is implementation. This includes giving support to companies during the cultural change process.

Step five is to set up the yardstick by which the effectiveness of the programme can be measured over an extended timeframe.

This approach ensures that any recommended actions are focused to provide a long-term, sustainable solution to occupational road risk.

In the face of escalating costs and rising public concern over safety issues, a company’s choice may lie between seeking out expertise, defining the problems and taking timely action to boost defences, or waiting for the high tide of hidden costs and litigation to flood through the organisation.

Allen Bewley is Head of Risk Management at RAC, Tel: 0870 606 2606, E-mail: abewley@rac.co.uk

Henkel is an international company with a wide product portfolio that produces adhesives, household cleaners, body care products, products for surface treatment and industrial cleaning, and chemical products. Its UK head office is in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

As part of a high profile health and safety programme Henkel in the UK decided to undertake a risk management profile with RAC Risk Management Services. After reviewing the findings, Henkel put several initiatives in place, such as checking driving licences before letting staff drive a company car, and making driving part of the interview and induction process for field based staff.

“We presented the cost saving figures raised in the risk management profile to our board. This included a business case for making risk management and linked driver training a higher priority in our already very well established health and safety policy,” says Diane Humphrey, Henkel’s corporate services manager. “We tried to demonstrate the value and cost savings that could be achieved by putting our plans in place. In this way, the business managers could see the value on their bottom line, as well as the contribution it would make to the general health and safety of our employees”.

Since implementing the risk management programme, Henkel has seen a 44% reduction in car accidents. In 2000, there were 74 compared to 111 accidents in 1998.