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The need to manage occupational road risk

ON November 17, 2019, Zambia joined the rest of the world in commemorating the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which is dedicated to remembering millions of people around the world who have been killed or injured in road crashes.
It is worth noting that in Zambia, several organisations have been working tirelessly to ensure that road carnage is curbed. Available official statistics speak for themselves in accentuating the fact that we have not been spared as a country in loss of innocent lives and serious injuries due to road accidents. This trend cannot be allowed to continue unabated as it is not for the common good.
It is well known that driving is one of the most dangerous work and non-work activities that most people have to do. It contributes to far more accidental deaths and serious injuries than all other work-related activities. Very few organisations and indeed individuals can operate without using the road. In the last two years, as a contributory action, I have taken keen interest to investigate and do some extensive research on some of the measures that can be taken to reduce the number of road accidents.
In this particular publication, I focus on what public transport operators with PSV drivers for both passenger and cargo should do to contribute to reduced road accidents. This is an introductory guide aimed at providing simple advice on instituting policies and procedures for operators that may not have considered this issue previously and are unsure of how to start. These policies and procedures enable the operator to continuously review and appreciate the risks that its use of the road creates to its drivers and other people as well as how to manage and reduce the risks. The benefits of doing this include saving money and avoiding business interruptions and negative publicity associated with road crashes as well as keeping its employees and other road users safe whilst on the road.
In implementing the measures, the operators should first put in place a plan to include the following:
• Collection of existing data and information as a way of ensuring that all the drivers have valid driving licences for the vehicles they use and that all the vehicles meet the legal and safety requirements for being on the road. Information and data on all accidents, near misses, motoring offences and costs involving drivers should also be collected; and
• Undertake risk assessments and prioritisation of areas of action especially where road safety problems are being encountered focusing on drivers and vehicles with the highest risks.
The other important aspect to consider is the status of the vehicles. Management needs to be resolute in ensuring that all the vehicles used are roadworthy and fit for the purpose. Vehicle safety checks should be prioritised and ability of drivers to conduct regular safety checks on vehicles they use be made mandatory. To make this easy, a check list for conducting safety checks should be provided for regular and pre-drive checks. Management should also make it mandatory for drivers to immediately report any vehicle defect that is noticed and a user-friendly vehicle defects form should be available in the vehicles at all times.
The drivers should also be looked at. Drivers should be made to understand that they are expected to drive safely, responsibly and in a legally acceptable manner. As a major safety measure, the following needs to be done by management:
• Ensure that every driver has a valid driving licence at all times. Licence checks should be done more often for those with poor driving record;
• Assess drivers’ attitudes and their driving competence on recruitment, during induction and regularly afterwards;
• Ensure drivers are fit to drive and must at all times meet legal fitness rules for driving and that they are not impaired at any time by alcohol or drugs and be encouraged to have regular eye checks;
• Drivers must not be allowed to drive when they are excessively tired. Journeys should be planned in such a manner that they have sufficient good quality rest before driving;
• Drivers should not be allowed to use mobile phones (hand-held or hands free) when driving and theses should be set to voicemail and messages for retrieval during breaks; and
• Ensure that drivers understand the importance of staying within the speed limits and how to identify the limit on every road they use and that which applies to their vehicle.
It should be noted that in order for the policies and procedures to be effective, they need to be actually implemented and therefore it is essential that:
• They are monitored and assurances provided that they are being put in practice by all the drivers and responsible managers.
• Drivers not only report collisions but also any significant near misses;
• Crashes and near-misses are extensively investigated to establish both the immediate and root causes of what happened; and
• Measures that will reduce the risk of repeat occurrences are identified and the lessons learned shared throughout the organisation.
The organisation’s overall road safety performance should be regularly reviewed to assess how well it is working. This helps in identifying any gaps or improvements and whether targets are being achieved. To this effect, management needs to:
• Set performance indicators and targets that motivate the drivers and their managers to make improving the organisation’s road risk performances their priority;
• Audit the organisation’s performance against targets to further develop/refine policies and improve performance;
• Benchmark performance with other organisations, which is an effective way of improving own road safety record and identifying good practices and cost-saving opportunities; and
• Put in place measures to recognise, celebrate and reward driver’s safe driving achievement and publicise them wherever possible.
Finally, road safety should become a common talking point for an operator and valued clients if significant reduction in road accidents is to be attained. It’s always worth noting that “road traffic accidents need not have to happen”.
The author is a general well-being advocate.