Traffic behaviour determines safety culture

Employers operating vehicles could grow a corporate safety culture, based on traffic safety programmes, said delegates at a road safety summit.

At the annual Southern Africa Road Safety Summit in September 2010, Derrick Sibanda of DuPont Safety Resources SA, said businesses operating large transport fleets have the potential to drastically reduce the fatality rates on South Africa’s roads.

SA road traffic losses are estimated at R43-billion per year. Sibanda said various studies have shown that buses, minibuses, and trucks make up a significant percentage of road accident fatalities.

Human error was a contributing factor in some 85% of road accidents in South Africa. “Although some companies are investing time and money on driver training programmes, attitudes to safety are still largely reactive and focus too heavily on reactive tools and techniques such as enforcement by the law.”

Work breeds culture

Results from previous DuPont safety audits conducted into the fleet management of global organisations, have revealed that the culture of a business has a major impact on employee behaviour and their attitudes towards safety.

“Productivity has become an overriding target for many organisations in South Africa. Safety is simply assumed to be an automatic part of all activities and so there is little effort made to enforce safety.”

Sibanda argues that organisations that incentivise drivers according to the number of completed deliveries, instead of safety and quality of deliveries, are encouraging reckless traffic behaviour that results in fatalities and major financial loss.

“Management does not stop to consider the risks that squeezing in an extra delivery could mean for their business”, he says. Apart from the obvious costs of damaged vehicles and lost loads, there are larger implications for the brand image, productivity and liability of the company.

Culture leadership

Without a visible commitment by management, it is difficult to establish a culture of safety priority. “Employees should see that senior management are taking safety seriously in order for them to demonstrate their own commitment.”

A cultural approach to road safety should be implemented throughout South Africa and could even be introduced into the minibus and taxi industry.

According to Sibanda, an analysis of the current culture of any organisation provides insight into what drives behaviour. Organisations could then look at best practices that should be implemented in order to create behaviour that is both profitable and safe.

“Best Practices should be monitored with a peer review system, where drivers continually review each other. Continual monitoring of activities moves organisations away from a culture of blame to a more pro-active system of operation.”

Driver education programmes are another important training tool. Sibanda recommends that these take the form of an e-learning programme for employees or high level fleet leadership training.

An educational blitz once a year is not sufficient to change behaviour. It requires a commitment to a continuous programme aimed at all levels of employees.

“Management must also learn about incentivisation and remuneration and the effect that these have on organisational culture.” DuPont safety consulting focuses on leadership goals, coaching and alignment, to set up structures to create a culture of safety among drivers.

PHOTO; We behave the way we drive, says a safety consultant.

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