Mercedes-Benz and Bakers: companies that care!

Mercedes-Benz and Bakers: companies that care!

Many companies claim to care about people. Sadly, in the transport industry, we don’t often see much tangible evidence of this. CHARLEEN CLARKE pays tribute to two companies that are breaking the mould in this regard.

The first company is Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA), which has launched its Fleet Owner Workplace Programme. The second is Bakers SA Limited, which has become the first company to complete this programme. We think both deserve a hearty pat on the back.

MBSA gets the first pat – because, together with its corporate social responsibility partner, Corridor Empowerment Project (CEP), the company has launched the Fleet Owner Workplace Programme. This initiative is truly tremendous, in that it places truck driver health and safety firmly on centre stage – which can only be a good thing.

The Fleet Owner Workplace Programme was born out of MBSA’s legacy of focusing on employee wellness. As Dr Clifford Panter, manager for health, safety, compensation and benefits at MBSA, comments, the company has been caring for its people in tangible ways for quite some time. “Our drive for excellence translates into benchmark achievements in the field of occupational health and safety. However, pockets of excellence can never be sustainable, so, for more than two decades now, we have made it a mission to share the lessons we have learned around employee health management with businesses and communities around us. This is based on our own first-hand experience of the benefits of a healthy workforce to the sustainability of our business,” he tells FOCUS.

Bakers SA celebrated the signing of its workplace wellness policy with stakeholders involved in the Fleet Owner Workplace Programme initiated by Mercedes-Benz South Africa. Pictured (from left) are Mpho Nkhumeleni, sales manager at Daimler Truck and Bus; Tersia Stroh, acting national secretary of the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry; Abdool Tayob, chief executive of Bakers SA; Shabir Tayob, national marketing and logistics director; Mayur Bhana, divisional manager group corporate affairs at Mercedes-Benz South Africa; and Themba Mthombeni, operations director of the Corridor Empowerment Project.   For instance, it has long supported Siyakhana, which lends workplace wellness support to small and medium enterprises around MBSA’s production plant in East London. MBSA has also long been an ardent supporter of the Trucking Wellness project, an initiative of the National Bargaining Council of the Road Freight and Logistics Industry. This project provides an education and basic healthcare service to truck drivers along the major freight routes in southern Africa. This includes dissemination of information, testing and treatment of HIV/Aids and other lifestyle-related illnesses.

The company decided that this wasn’t enough, however, as it wanted to provide a more holistic approach to the management of health and wellness on the part of the fleet owners.

It was thus that it joined forces with CEP to produce a formal programme that could be implemented at its customers’ premises – and the very first “guinea pig” for the programme was Bakers, which signed up for the Fleet Owner Workplace Programme last year.

This wasn’t Bakers’ first foray into the wellness arena; it did have an on-site medical clinic that provided some basic primary healthcare and occupational health services. But, as Michelle Steyn, marketing director of CEP, tells FOCUS, the programme delivered so much more. “The MBSA Fleet Owner Workplace Programme facilitated a workshop with Bakers management where we discussed chronic diseases (HIV/Aids specifically) and the impact thereof on business. We discussed how the prevention and management of disease could reduce expenses in an organisation, and how improved use of health and human resources data could assist management in their risk management,” she reveals.

Mercedes-Benz and Bakers: companies that care!The next step was the establishment and training of a Workplace Wellness Committee that could take ownership of the Workplace Wellness Programme within Bakers. “The workshop focused on understanding the diseases that post the highest burden in South Africa; HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse and addiction,” she comments.

A Workplace Wellness Policy was established at Bakers and guidance was provided when it came to interpreting data from the clinic (this is obviously vital for management to use in terms of risk management).

On this note, Abdool Tayob, chief executive of Bakers SA Limited, says the MBSA Fleet Owner Workplace Programme has proved to be an exceptional risk management tool. “Health and safety are the cornerstones of our human resources strategy; we know that a healthy employee is a productive employee. We understand the conditions in which our drivers work; it is our moral obligation to support them as best we can,” he tells FOCUS.

It’s clear that he really does value his drivers. “They are the lifeline of our business and of the country as a whole,” he notes. MBSA’s divisional manager for group corporate affairs, Mayur Bhana, concurs. “For every truck that is not on the road (for whatever reason), our economy suffers. It is impossible to keep a fleet moving if the drivers are not in tip-top health,” he points out.

Tayob adds that employee wellness also makes sense. “The benefits of this programme are two-pronged. Yes, it’s about wellness, but it’s also a business decision because it boosts productivity.”

Mercedes-Benz and Bakers: companies that care!In fact, the Bakers CE says that the bottom-line impact, of an initiative such as this programme, goes far beyond what we may construe. “I have done some calculations and I believe that this programme could add R7 million to our bottom line. This will enable us to extend our wellness programme and provide an improved holistic package for drivers including, for example, parking facilities, a clinic and a gym. In essence the programme pays for itself and is, therefore, self-sustainable,” he tells FOCUS.

Tayob’s calculation is based on the positive impact of keeping experienced drivers. “Experienced drivers can reduce running costs by at least seven to 13 percent. Furthermore, the life of a vehicle can increase by 25 percent when it’s placed in the hands of an experienced driver. Keeping professional drivers with the company for longer has a substantial impact on the profitability of the company,” he explains.

Based on this, and also on the positive spin-off for the drivers themselves, Tayob encourages other companies to participate in the Fleet Owner Workplace Programme. “We are now, without a doubt, a pioneer when it comes to wellness. I am proud to say we are a role model in this regard. We would like to challenge other companies to take wellness more seriously. The industry as a whole has been dragging its feet for too long,” he stresses.

Let’s hope that other companies heed this challenge. The industry will be a much better (and more profitable) place to be.

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