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Motorway crash broken neck victim uses experience to transform employer into road safety fleet champion

23 February 2010

Suffering a broken neck in a road crash has given fleet manager Leigh Stiff a unique insight into why all public and private sector organisations should take their occupational road risk management responsibilities seriously.

The crash put an end of Mr Stiff’s career as a Great Britain taekwondo international, but he is drawing on his own experience to champion at-work driver safety at St Albans-based, design and build plus fine joinery contractor Hannaford.

As a result of the initiatives taken, Hannaford, which operates a Citroen solus fleet composed of 14 company cars and 12 LCVs with a further 11 employees driving their own cars on business, has become the 39th ‘business champion’ under the Government-backed ‘Driving for Better Business’ campaign, which is delivered by RoadSafe.

Last year Hannaford vehicles were involved in just two at-fault crashes and two non-fault incidents with the majority of insurance claims being windscreen-damage related.

But, for Mr Stiff the number of incidents is completely unrelated to the reasons why all employers should have in place a pro-active at-work driving safety programme.

He said: “Drivers get stressed and make mistakes. The important thing is controlling and minimising such an eventuality through effective management systems. Management and communication makes all the difference, thus ensuring drivers do not injure themselves or damage the company’s vehicles and reputation.

“I have explained to drivers why Hannaford has implemented the policies and procedures it has and drivers understand the rationale and what the benefits are.”

Life-changing evidence of the impact of a driver’s mistake came for Mr Stiff when in September 1998 the vehicle he was driving along a motorway at 60 mph was hit from behind. The at-fault driver was estimated to have been travelling at 110 mph.

Off work for 11 months and after under-going a spinal fusion operation, it was only in 2004 - six years after the crash - that Mr Stiff’s life returned to ‘normality’.

“It is not necessarily what you accomplish in life, it is how you overcome the challenges,” said Mr Stiff, who was brought in to Hannaford to specifically manage the company’s duty of care compliance in November 2008.

However, as a fleet management professional Mr Stiff is using his expertise to drive down costs across all aspects of Hannaford’s fleet operation and calculates that a 20% saving is in sight.

He said: “Hannaford’s annual fleet spend in 2008 was £240,000 (not including the cash for car takers). By effectively managing the fleet and taking total control, the company reduced that figure to £190,000 in 2009 - a great saving for a small business - and some of that saving is due to encouraging employees to better look after vehicles.”

Although Hannaford’s crash record may be regarded as ‘first class’, Mr Stiff was concerned at the amount of money the company was spending on rectifying vehicle ‘dings and dents’ and on replacing ‘wear and tear’ parts due to harsh acceleration, braking and cornering.

“Educating drivers and communicating policies effectively helps ensure everyone understands the company ethos and why it is important that employees drive safely whether they are at the wheel of a company provided vehicle or their own as part of the grey fleet,” he said.

Mr Stiff explained: “Finance manager, Matt Vier was previously in charge of fleet management, however he could not dedicate the time required to effectively manage duty of care.

“The 2007 Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act realigned everyone’s perception of the need to manage the fleet. The management team at Hannaford realised the risks they were now exposed to and wanted to ensure the fleet was protected 100% so they recruited myself as a dedicated and experienced fleet manager to ensure total control over the fleet and focus on safety.”

He added: ‘The growing corporate focus on duty of care compliance should mean that fleet managers have more responsibility and this is a good thing. I feel sorry for those companies where fleet management is a ‘bolt on’ job because without fleet experience compliance and fleet cost reduction can be difficult.”

Since Mr Stiff’s appointment a range of risk management related policies and systems have been introduced including:

  • Drivers being issued with a handbook detailing all policies and procedures
  • Driver licence checking
  • Employees undergoing a psychometric driver risk assessment - the Fleet Driver Risk Index - with Peak Performance carrying out any required training on a targeted individual basis
  • Van drivers completing an inspection form every week to ensure their vehicle is in a roadworthy condition
  • Tyre tread and pressure monitored on each car monthly and any work required is actioned by Mr Stiff, who also inspects cars before drivers make long distance trips
  • A constant supply of screen wash kept by the company, as not all cars have warnings when fluid is running low
  • Own vehicle drivers - the ‘grey’ fleet - being subject to the same policies and procedures as company cars and vans and their drivers with additional checks on insurance, vehicle servicing and MoT documents undertaken. Documents, if requested, must be provided within 48 hours
  • Accident reporting forms issued to all drivers to instruct them what to do in the case of an incident, in order to safeguard company interests, but more importantly exercise the correct duty of care to all employees
  • TomTom Work satellite navigation systems installed in vehicles to avoid drivers being distracted by looking at maps for directions.

Under the company’s newly introduced road accident investigation procedure at-fault drivers whose action or behaviour is deemed inappropriate or unsafe, are dealt with through the company’s disciplinary channels.

Financial penalties have been introduced to act as a deterrent in relation to more minor incidents. Typically no action is taken after the first accident, however the second accident requires the driver to pay half the excess and the third means the driver has to pay the full excess.

Additionally, drivers involved in an accident would potentially have to attend a safety course at their own expense, dependant on the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Caroline Scurr, director of the ‘Driving for Better Business’ campaign, said: “Too frequently SME companies say they do not have the time or resources to manage road safety. However, whether a business runs 30 vehicles, 300 or 3,000 a weakness in health and safety compliance can, if exposed in the wake of a road crash, prove hugely costly and cause significant damage to an organisation’s reputation.

“Hannaford is setting a first class example of a small company that has recognised its responsibilities and put in place not only a fleet professional, but a series of policies and procedures to ensure duty of care compliance. Other public and private sector fleets, irrespective of their size, should follow Hannaford’s impressive lead.”

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