Thought Leadership Article

Human error and accidents and the role of self-regulation

Companies using third party contractors to move their goods are confronted with the challenges of poor economic growth, ever increasing transport costs and high rate of accidents. In an environment with one of the worst accident rates in the world, where accidents cost the economy an estimated R300-billion annually, something different needs to be done, but what?

Examining the problem of high road accident rates at a supply chain level argues there is culpability throughout the supply chain. Road safety and efficiency are closely related in the supply chain, and the twin benefits of improved safety and reduced cost will result from improving efficiency.

Culpability of drivers

Research shows that 90% of all accidents have some human error involved, and 57% are entirely due to human error, in terms of use of alcohol, recklessness, fatigue, poor reactions, poor anticipation and other factors. Interestingly, 80% of accidents are caused by 20% of drivers, which makes the identification of drivers with risky profiles and unsuitable skills important.

Culpability of transport companies

Many people would agree that driver wellness of the average SA commercial truck driver is extremely poor, leading to fatigued and unhealthy drivers, the effects of which inevitably compound the errors being made at a driver level. It is a fact that poor driver wellness, which is largely the responsibility of the transporter, has a direct impact on fatigue and on a driver’s ability to see, decide on and react to situations on the road.

Culpability of consignors

Just as transport companies compound driver error and often have a disregard for or only a limited understanding of the conditions their drivers work under, so it is that many consignors and consignees of goods have the same disregard and negative effect on the third party transporters
of their goods.

A simple example is that many consignees bother little about the queues of trucks outside their gates, a situation that is simply inefficient and adds to unnecessary trucks on the roads. This practice often makes drivers on a schedule late and who then have to rush to make up the time for the next pick-up or drop.

Culpability of primary industry

At the heart of the problem at an industry level is a lack of understanding that poor efficiency results in poor safety and higher costs. In many cases consignors think that cost reductions can be achieved only by the tender mechanism to drive down prices. While this has its place, often the cheaper contractor fails this, destabilising the transport community.

In many other cases industry members believe that efficiency is the transporters’ responsibility, not realising that transporters can do little without the co-operation of consignee and consignor. Furthermore, few companies realise that contractor trucks are often shared by companies and do not appreciate the effect that they and their competitors sub-optimise the system as a whole by, for example, delaying the trucks. Often trucks carrying the same product pass each other going in opposite directions. Again this creates an environment where there are too many trucks and where drivers are in a hurry, because of delays.

Culpability of government

Government obviously bears responsibility for poor roads and the upholding of the law, and little can be said that hasn’t already been said on this subject. The problem is that government is not going to get its act together in the short term, which means the rest of the elements in the chain have a choice to be made, get involved or not.

Is self-regulation the answer?

Self-regulation should be a concept where accountability is accepted throughout the supply chain so that the onus is shifted from government policing the supply chains to persuading supply chains to willingly adopt behaviour that addresses driver wellness, safety loading and productivity. The Road Transport Management System (RTMS) is an industry-led government-supported programme and has at its heart SABC standards for transporters that has been increasingly adopted by transporters.

To focus however, just on accreditation of transporters is too narrow a view. Proper self-regulation involves all bodies that have a role to play.

Government and self-regulation

It is generally felt that Government has been too passive in promoting self-regulation, leaving it to industry to sort out amongst themselves, and has funded precious little of the RTMS activities, even after tremendous gains have been shown.

Government has to release funding to support selfregulation. These projects are small change, yet have a massive impact.

Government should also promote the use of PBS (Performance Based Standards) vehicle dimension concessions to incentivise self-regulation but only to those supply chains that regulate themselves. PBS is an excellent bargaining tool that should be used to reward compliance. Allowing PBS to benefit consignees/ors who are not seriously self-regulating beggars belief.

Industry monitoring

If it is accepted that efficiency and safety go together and that, for efficiency, consignors, consignees and truckers are dependent on each other, then being accountable to each other is fundamental in addressing the problems on the roads.

By way of example, when Eskom publicly benchmarked the speeding of 60 transporters against each other, fatalities fell by 60% in a two-year period. Overloading by Eskom’s consignors fell from 55% to 4%.

In the sugar industry (14 sugar mills) overloading statistics dropped from 35% to 4% and the timber (pulpwood) industry from 17% to 4% through monthly benchmarking of overloading statistics. The pulpwood timber industry achieved similar results.

Consignee/or standards

These standards exist under the RTMS banner but only one mine has been accredited in 10 years, in our opinion these standards are ineffective and suggest that the adoption of the ISO 13009 standards as well as benchmarking consignors and consignees are far more valuable tools.

Conclusion

If industry and consignee/ors take responsibility for road safety issues and together with transport companies and drivers, monitor the supply chain on an ongoing basis, the rewards are improved efficiency, reduced costs and improved safety.

If we accept that efficiency and safety go together and accept that for efficiency consignors, consignees and truckers are dependent on each other, then being accountable to each other is fundamental in addressing the problems on our roads.

If we want to achieve efficiency and therefore reduce costs, each level and every player throughout the supply chain has to take responsibility and needs to account to each other.

The rewards for doing so are lower costs across the supply chain.•

Written by: Andrew Crickmay, director, Crickmay & Associates
Date: 11 March 2015
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