Competency can strengthen the economy

Managing truck drivers' competency can strengthen the economy

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The City of Johannesburg has announced the arrest of seven licensing department officials for illegally allowing motorists to obtain drivers licenses, license discs, and illegally registering their vehicles. This misconduct has resulted in a loss of R14.7 million for the City of Johannesburg.

This announcement was welcome but overdue. The figure of R14.7 million, while material in terms of fraud is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage done to our economy. When unlicensed and untrained drivers take to the roads, they not only place their lives at risk but also the lives of all other road users.

The municipality's investigation further determined that the problem was not limited to Johannesburg. The report estimated that fraudulent transactions to the value of R155-million were made nationally between January 2008 and February 2016.

Equally alarming, Arrive Alive figures suggest that 27.5% of accidents on our roads are caused by trucks and light delivery vehicles. The most common factors contributing to road accidents included unroadworthy vehicles, bursting tyres, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and overtaking when it is unsafe to do so.

The direct cost to the economy was recently estimated at R306 billion, which includes clearing accident scenes, hospital care and police time. There are also the indirect costs of work hours lost, delayed delivery and damaged cargos. This cost is materialising in higher vehicle insurance premiums charged by insurance companies.

Truck accidents accounted for 4.8% of accidents, however, due to the carnage caused when a large vehicle loses control, it is imperative that measures are put in place to reduce their number of accidents. Under the holding umbrella of Innovative Solutions Group, Innovative Staffing Solutions provides a turnkey outsource solution for logistics firms, currently employing more than 5,500 full-time drivers. Each one of our drivers is subjected to a thorough background check, their competency is evaluated and their weaknesses are addressed through training. Equally important, each driver is managed by their allocated site supervisor to address potential issues that may hamper performance, productivity and safety.

While we understand that no single approach can rid South Africa's roads of incompetent or unlicensed drivers, there are solutions to reducing the number of accidents involving commercial vehicles. It requires a combination of regular driver evaluation and corrective training, fleet technology monitoring systems, and close management of driver schedules to prevent fatigue and negligence.

Our experience is that many logistics firms struggle to fill their quota of drivers, which often forces managers to demand longer working hours from drivers, resulting in fatigue. It also means they cannot be taken off their shift for necessary refresher training. As staffing is our core business, we never compromise on any level of safety.

Fatigue affects driving in various ways, from slowed reaction time to lack of concentration. If a driver's reaction time is just half a second slower while driving at 40km/h, it may take two car lengths longer to stop.

Statistics suggest that drivers who have not slept for 17 hours are comparable to drivers with a 0.05 blood alcohol level. Someone who has not slept for 24 hours has the same driving impairment as someone with 0.10 blood alcohol levels. Yet fatigued driving does not receive the same level of police attention or legal consequences as a driver under the influence of alcohol.

Less fatigue and fewer accidents mean less delays, increased productivity and an improved bottom line. This assists logistics companies to improve their operating costs and enhance their reputation among customers. It also leads to lower insurance premiums.

At Innovative Staffing Solutions, we adopt a multi-faceted approach to road safety, which includes the management of drivers' needs for proper, regular rest, as well as advanced driving instruction. We regularly test our drivers' emergency reactions and train them in scenarios beyond what is experienced on the roads. As a result, we have fewer accidents, which translate into considerable benefits for our clients.

The trucking industry is a vital cog in the efficient operation of the South African economy, which is why improving the safety record of the industry is so important. We, therefore, call on all the major role-players such as the Department of Transport, organized labour, logistics and insurance companies and the drivers themselves to commit to a strategy that will better the conditions for everyone. Experts such as Innovative Staffing Solutions can drive the process to help stakeholders employ suitably qualified and trained employees who are carefully managed to ensure safer road conditions for all.

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