Don’t ignore risk and safety!

No transport operator can afford to have a single vehicle off the road, let alone several, for any length of time. A competent in-house risk and safety manager with clout is needed to ensure unnecessary breakdowns and accidents are kept to an absolute minimum.

In South Africa’s tough, highly competitive road transport industry, operators can’t afford to ignore the crucial risk and safety management function of their businesses. The appointment of a specialist risk and safety manager is a practice acknowledged globally to underpin the success of most, if not all, leading road transport companies.

Failure to ignore this critical function may even result in the collapse of a road transport company, as the fleet’s wheels stop turning, literally. It can take up to three months to attend to the major repairs required following road-side breakdowns and needless accidents, a long time to wait for any vehicle to get back on the road. Then, of course, there are the hidden costs a transport operator has to carry when an incident occurs, including insurance excess and the driver’s medical expenses.

The position of company risk and safety manager must be a senior one, backed by the company’s directors. They must have the authority to stop a vehicle from operating if, in their opinion, the condition of that vehicle, its driver or the route represents a risk.

There are several other operational safety aspects that require continuous monitoring in a road transport company because vehicles, drivers and road conditions change all the time. In many companies, operational or distribution managers can override a risk and safety manager’s decision, allowing vehicles to continue operating at considerable risk to the vehicle and everyone concerned. Sadly, this situation is all too common amongst South African transport companies.

Many vehicle incidents are a consequence of drivers being ill. Driver wellness is a critical risk factor that needs continuous monitoring, especially in operations where drivers are paid a low basic salary and an incentive based on kilometres travelled. Often drivers manipulate the company system controlling the maximum number of hours they are allowed to drive during a given period, driving extra trips to earn more money.

Driving licences and professional driving permits (PrDPs) also need to be inspected regularly to ensure that they remain valid. Failure to control and manage this element of a business can lead to situations in which licences or PrDPs expire. When this happens, the driver concerned is unable, legally, to continue driving until the licence or PrDP has been renewed. Worst-case scenario is when a vehicle driven by someone with an expired PrDP or licence is involved in an accident,  because the insurance company concerned simply rejects the claim. But perhaps most importantly, driving skills, especially a driver’s ability to handle a vehicle in a safe and professional manner, need ongoing attention.

To ensure each vehicle is in good condition and safe to drive before the trip begins, vehicle fitness for the trip and load concerned is another factor requiring regular assessment by a risk and safety manager. In well-managed road transport operations, all drivers are compelled to conduct pre-trip vehicle inspections to identify any faults, and their reports are used to assess the daily condition of each vehicle. While, in theory, this system works well, it does need to be controlled by a risk and safety manager to ensure that both the inspection and the report that follows are conducted correctly. The manager also needs to take immediate action to have a vehicle repaired if found to be unroadworthy. In addition, changing route and road conditions need to be assessed regularly to ensure that all attendant risks are minimised.

The successful management of a road transport operation is undoubtedly enhanced by the appointment of a competent risk and safety manager. Any company that does not go this route should allocate this function to a senior person in the company. Whatever you do, don’t sweep this important issue under the carpet. Doing so will result in a missing link in the broader supply chain of each product.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 45 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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