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Corporate Social Responsibility: The pros and cons

Date: 16 August 2016   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Trawl through any company's promotional literature and chances are you'll find a namedrop for Corporate Social Responsibility. Some businesses really buy into it and see the value in protecting their employees, including the ones driving for work, while others say the same, but in reality they don't bother.

Implementing a CSR programme for drivers is never a bad thing, as whatever a company's motivation, it's a protective measure that can stave off massive time and cost losses further down the line.

"Look at it from a financial perspective: replacing one employee costs about £2000 a go," says Nigel Grainger, managing director of Fleet Risk Consultants. "You've got the advert, the interview - and that's without paying a recruitment company to find someone. There's a shortage of [professional] drivers and I don't know many businesses where there's a glut of people coming to work for you. So people can call it CSR, but what they're actually looking at is the financial implications of risk."

Grainger: 'People are really looking at the financial implications of risk'. Nigel _Grainger

Throwing caution to the wind has its drawbacks on a reputational level, too: "If a company is found to have not taken its CSR seriously, it can have a hugely negative impact on perception," says Volvo's head of business sales, Selwyn Cooper. "Not only does this often result in big financial damages - the harm done to the company's all important reputation can take years to repair."

"Several years ago, I was in the car with the finance director of a large plc and a year or two later we rolled out a licence-checking programme in his business," says Ross Jackson, CEO of fleet management firm Fleet Operations. "Long story short, he never had a licence. He'd been driving for 17 years but he'd never bothered getting one - and that's the finance director of a plc.

"My point is that we don't challenge things enough and say 'have we done everything we need to here?'," he continues. "It doesn't have to be massive, but ask 'what are we doing, how are we moving the agenda forward, are we reducing risks, are our drivers having less accidents - are we happy that we've actually done the right thing for the organisation?'"

Jackson claims businesses don't actually have to do much to tighten up their approach to CSR: "It isn't unreasonable to do simple things like check licences and risk-assess individuals to make sure you haven't missed something. Most of this can be done online and it's not that invasive anymore."

The difficulty with such action is that it often has to come from the top down and the businesses that don't bother are usually the ones with a disinterested attitude from up high - despite what the fleet operator might be campaigning for. The glimmer of hope is that those who understand CSR and what it means to at-work drivers are usually behind it.

"I instigated a business customer advisory group and at our first meeting we asked fleet managers a series of questions about why they were there - 'is it because you don't want to have your cars in accidents and your insurance costs rise?' etc.", says Lesley Upham, commercial director of road safety charity IAM RoadSmart. "The answers were always about the moral responsibility of protecting their driver fleet - and these were people from local authorities to large multinationals to small companies.

It sounds like some companies are just talking the talk, but I was quite taken aback by how strident they were and that that was their primary reason. They couldn't sleep at night if they didn't know they were doing the most they could."

Worst-case scenario

Companies that don't bother with CSR are considered ticking time bombs by fleet safety specialists. Some firms get away with it, but you only have to look at the figures and the end result for businesses that have been caught to see that a risk assessment might actually be worth it.

"According to the Reported Road Casualties Great Britain:Annual Report 2014, there were 1775 road deaths in 2014 compared with 142 work deaths reported under RIDDOR [Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations] in 2014/2015," says Nigel Grainger, managing director of Fleet Risk Consultants. "If you assume even a quarter [of road deaths] were at-work drivers, that's over 400. So it's more than double the amount of non-driving work-related deaths."

Panel Pic - Ross Jackson , CEO Of Fleet Operations Large (1)

There has yet to be a prosecution related to driving under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, but it's expected to happen. The "nearest we've got" according to Grainger, is Baldwin's Cranes, which was sentenced in December 2015. An employee was killed in August 2011 as a result of faulty brakes and following an inspection by the Health and Safety Executive, several other cranes on the fleet were also found to be sub-par. The firm was fined £700,000, ordered to pay costs of £200,000 and required to advertise the incident on its website for six months. 

"We know anecdotally that HSE and the police have been looking for a large name to prosecute for years," adds Fleet Operations CEO Ross Jackson. "With a prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, they're waiting for a great name, the right set of circumstances and proof - then they'll drag that name through the press."