Driving responsibly

driving_responsibly

Brakes, tyres, overloading and servicing are all important aspects to consider when addressing the issue of trucks and road safety, but what of the most important factor of all, the driver? FOCUS attended a Chemical and Allied Industries Association (CAIA) workshop on the importance of driver management.

“The N3TC has identified driver health and wellness as a main cause of accidents on the N3 toll route between Johannesburg and Durban,” revealed Louise Lindeque, responsible care manager at CAIA. “Yet, it is equally clear that the commercial transport industry is still not paying enough attention to the importance of driver management.

“A happy, healthy driver is a safe driver, and a safe driver promotes a safer road network all round. There are a number of programmes in place across the industry that do focus on driver wellness, but I think we can all agree that there are not nearly enough, and that driver management systems are sadly lacking,” she said.

On the whole, operators tasked with transporting dangerous goods, and who are therefore naturally more concerned with the safe transportation of their loads, tend to focus more on driver wellness, but there is still room for improvement.

“As an industry, we place a huge burden of responsibility on our drivers,” said Richard Durant, owner of TRANSHEQ Consulting. “They are tasked with transporting heavy, sometimes dangerous loads, in trucks worth millions of rands when fully laden. We also send them out onto public roads, and we expect them to know what they are doing and to drive safely and act responsibly. But how much responsibility does the transport industry shoulder in terms of driver wellness, fitness to drive and ability to handle such large and heavy trucks?”

Durant’s point is a simple one: road transport is an inherently risky business; yet, too few operators have the basics in place when it comes to safe and sustainable transportation practices.

“Drivers are the key to any successful operation,” he explained. “If they are efficient and well trained, they can make a huge difference to the success of an operation, from goods arriving on time, to safety on the road, to fuel efficiency and reduced wear and tear on the vehicle.

“Yet, quality and availability of such drivers are also limited,” he continued. “Driving trucks, particularly long-distance haulers, is hard work. It’s a business that demands long, lonely hours; it’s anti-social; and it’s not glamorous. We need to incentivise driving trucks again; we need to value the good drivers we have; and we need to be continuously training and monitoring new drivers.”

Driving dangerous goods in particular is a difficult industry. “There are more risks with no extra incentives,” pointed out Durant. “And far stricter employment criteria, limiting the available pool of drivers even further.

“And, for those drivers who are hired, an often inadequate induction period or even a complete lack of basic, industry-specific induction training [is given].”

According to Keith McMurray, a specialist advisor on road transport legislation, if there is anything more important than training in the transport industry, he has yet to find it in 32 years’ experience in the dangerous goods road transport industry.

“A trained workforce equals a productive workforce, which saves money,” he said. “If issues of safety, for drivers and other road users, were not enough in themselves, then the fact that a trained driver saves an operator money surely should be.”

But even a trained driver requires a well-managed system to operate within.

According to Durant, drivers are integral to the functioning of the transport business, just like any other employees and, as such, they need management. “Management means taking responsibility for drivers, including training and trip planning,” he explains.

One of the reasons why good driver management is so imperative is an almost complete lack of monitoring of trucks by local authorities. As a result, operators need to be self-regulating, ensuring that load limits, road rules and safe driving practices are adhered to themselves.

“It is up to managers to balance productivity (which is of course critical to any operator) with safety critical issues,” explained Durant. “One of the biggest factors in safety critical issues is the driver: is he/she driving excessive hours to meet targets; is he/she driving at night or resting at night; can he/she handle the truck and its load; is he/she speeding; is he healthy; when was the last time he/she had a full physical check-up; and is he/she eating well?

“These are all questions a good transport manager should not only be asking – but answering!”

For example, most road accidents occur between 23:00 and 05:00, when our natural body clocks are telling us to sleep. These should be the hours when truck drivers are also sleeping, but instead, many push through the night to earn incentive packages or simply because the roads are quieter. “This is a huge problem on our roads and must be monitored and managed,” insisted Durant.

Health and fatigue, together with good driving practices and training, play a big role in over-all driver wellness and suitability and should be managed along with the driver’s specific job responsibilities.

“Occupational health management programmes within the transport industry need to focus specifically on driver health,” said Dr Marina Botha, clinical standards manager at Life Occupational Health. “These programmes are not only about having a doctor or nurse conduct regular physical exams, but should be designed and managed by an occupational health practitioner who understands the rigours, requirements and conditions of the transport industry.”

For example, Botha pointed out that long hours and a lack of sleep and regular, nutritious meals are the norm for truck drivers. “There are also certain conditions that, if left untreated, can be detrimental to the safety of a truck driver, such as epilepsy, poor blood sugar levels and poor eyesight,” she continued.

Markus Immelman, SH & E manager at Reef Tankers, was primarily concerned with fatigue. “Fatigue may affect a person’s ability to work safely. It must be identified, assessed and controlled like other hazards in the workplace,” he said.

“Importantly, fatigue impairs a driver’s judgment of their own state of fatigue. This means the effective management of fatigue should not be the responsibility of the driver alone, but rather a managerial duty. Controlling fatigue requires cooperation between employers and employees. Control strategies need to be implemented to reduce the risk of crashes as a result of fatigue,” Immelman insisted.

But managing drivers involves far more than managing their health.

“Speed is another big issue,” revealed Durant. “Speed must be appropriate to road conditions. It’s imperative for drivers to ask themselves: where am I driving to? What speed is appropriate here? But beyond that, managers should be monitoring their drivers. The point of management is to guide, train and support your employees, and that is even more important if those employees are travelling thousands of kilometres each week.”

Naturally, there are a number of tools available to aid a manager in maintaining control over his/her fleet, including tachographs, on-board computers and vehicle tracking systems, but at the end of the day it comes down to management control. “Management control means being able to discipline your employees. It means understanding your yard and being able to maintain control over your business,” said Durant.

Workplace conditions for a truck driver are particularly interesting. The truck itself is covered by the Road and Traffic Act, but the driver, while in his/her cab, is under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. “I think we often forget that a driver in his/her cab is really in his/her place of employment, and that we as operators have certain obligations to fulfil accordingly, both to the driver and the public who expect a level of expertise from drivers while they are on public roads. As responsible companies we are expected to mitigate all hazards potentially caused by our businesses. This includes managing how our trucks and drivers behave on the road.”

In terms of dangerous goods in particular, everyone has a responsibility, including consignors, consignees and operators, to ensure a load is delivered safely. “This is a mandate we must adhere to, and one that we largely need to self-regulate,” said Durant.

“For example, legislation is firmly in place insisting on training, but training facilities are not audited, and regulations are not enforced, so it is up to us, as an industry, to ensure our drivers are capable.

“A course certification that should be achieved between three and four days can often be secured in a matter of hours and many operators support such practices, choosing time saved over valuable training,” he explained.

McMurray added another element to the problem of training. “There are currently 27 accredited training providers in South Africa, but no indication of who has assessed these providers to ensure their capabilities,” he said.

“Many operators want to comply with training requirements, but are unsure how to approach the matter. Can we even trust government-approved accreditations? This is why many larger operators are starting their own, accredited, in-house academies.

“The onus needs to be on operators to be responsible and keep our roads and drivers safe, but are we achieving this?

“At this point, no, but there is certainly a growing awareness of how important training, driver wellness and driver management are. Perhaps when these ideals are firmly in place, our roads will be safer and our operations more efficient,” he concludes.

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