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RISK MANAGEMENT: Why take a risk?

Date: 20 December 2016   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Every fleet should have a risk management policy; it's simply part of the deal for any business operating vehicles. Drivers need to be crystal clear about where they stand and what's expected of them, but in the cold light of day, companies also need to protect themselves against those who flout the rules.

If you don't already have such a thing, the advice is to get one quick. It's generally expected that large corporations will have some form of policy, but even they need updating, and they are sometimes non-existent in smaller organisations where time and resource are scarce.

"If one driver has a serious accident and you say you didn't have the time or the money to check their licence, that could wipe out your business," says David Bushnell, product manager for mobility at leasing giant Alphabet. "It's not a good excuse; it's more a case of 'can we afford not to do it?' - and a lot of SMEs don't even have driving-at-work policies."

"If you're starting from scratch then check licences, MoTs and tax," says Nigel Grainger, head of fleet at Vertas Group,  multi-service facilities management company. "The other challenge is what people are driving - is it a company car, is it their own car, and, in both cases, are they fit for purpose? Set basic criteria like this that you know you can achieve - because if it's unachievable you'll never get any compliance at all."

Risk management policies should at least outline the bare minimum requirements for drivers in the interests of compliance, as David Richards - head of marketing at AA Drivetech, a provider of fleet risk management and driver education services - explains.

David Richards Vis _0110_2693

ABOVE: David Richards

"The more formal way is to have a perforated declaration receipt at the bottom of the policy page that actually says 'I have read and understood the requirements of the company policy', and the drivers are required to sign it and send it back to the fleet administrator."

He claims a bare minimum approach won't get the best results though, and it's within fleet operators' interests to be proactive. 

"Signing a document will go some way, but the only way to change hearts and minds is to give some training, so drivers and line managers can understand the consequences if they break that policy. Have meetings about driver safety and allow drivers to make comments or ask questions about the handbook or policy."

You don't have to pour vast amounts of time and cash into engaging with drivers, either. It's easy enough to find online tools to help with following up after accidents, and they come cheap, if not for free.
"A lot of companies just look at their historical accident data and say 'we've had this many parking incidents, this many speeding etc.', but they haven't done post-incident surveys to actually understand what led to that accident happening," adds Alphabet's Bushnell.  

David Bushnell Alphabet

"You can employ things like Survey Monkey to do it for you automatically; you just have to know what sort of questions you want to ask. There's also advice from [road safety charity] Brake and similar companies about setting up driver surveys like this."

"An example we saw recently from one business was that it did not phone salesmen when they were driving," adds Selwyn Cooper, Volvo's head of business sales. "Through their direct management system, they would be aware when their drivers were actually en route to an appointment, and the company didn't call them because that was an internal policy of reducing distraction, even if the phone was answered within the law."

Even the best policies have shelf lives, though, and they all need renewing from time to time, as Grainger explains: "Read through it and ask 'does it fit with the business?' It might be perfectly fine and it may not need changing, but you might look at it and see there's been an increase in a certain type of damage, so you need to put a specific policy in place. It's a dynamic thing and a policy should never just be shoved in a drawer: it should be reviewed again and again.

To be effective keep it simple

A fleet policy is at its most effective when it's simple. Commonsense initiatives, spelled out in language everyone can understand is more or less the crux of it, and there are plenty of examples of companies doing just that.

"[One business] had a specific issue with towing trailers," says Vertas Group's head of fleet Nigel Grainger. "They were forever bending trailers while reversing them, so the policy was changed so you couldn't reverse the trailer unless someone else was actually watching you do it.

"They eliminated all the damage to their trailers overnight - problem solved. A lot of solutions like this are dead simple, so it shouldn't be complicated, and if it is, you're doing it wrong."

"It's so obvious, but we did an assessment internally some years ago," adds Volvo's Selwyn Cooper, "and worked out that it was cheaper to fit rear parking sensors on every car because the cost of the damage it would prevent on a few cars more than made up for it. We kind of tarred everyone with the same brush, made it a standard feature of all our cars and saw a consequent reduction in things like scuffed bumpers."