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Prime Mover Magazine

Saving costs and lives through successful driver management: Zurich

Incident and claim costs can be minor compared to the losses experienced by transport companies with a culture of poor driver management – especially for those that operate in the heavy vehicle space. For these companies, the churn of drivers and inefficient driving of vehicles will likely cost significantly more than driver crashes and insurance. That’s why risk assessments are heavily weighted towards drivers and driver performance management, comprising about 80 per cent of the assessment, with the remaining 20 per cent focusing on journeys and vehicles.

Effective driver management goes well beyond ensuring a driver’s safety on the road. It extends into loss control and having the right support in place to both reduce the frequency of crashes and minimise the mental, physical and emotional costs to drivers who are involved in a traumatic incident. Keeping open conversations about home life is also an important way to keep a handle on driver performance – by recognising when a driver may be under stress and at risk of being involved in a crash. And if a driver is involved in an incident, a good driver management program will give the driver the space and time they need to ensure they’re in the right headspace to return to work.

As we’re a global insurer, I get to see best practice examples from all over the world. One of the most impressive initiatives I’ve seen in recent years was from a fleet operator overseas. They were a bulk dangerous goods carrier and were having more than 20,000 telematic events and between five and six rollovers each year. Individual driver incentives had proven ineffectual in improving driver performance, so the business moved to driver team-based incentives where the whole team was rewarded based on the performance of the whole team (rather just the individual driver). This resulted in drivers starting to manage each other and alerting senior management to which drivers should drive which routes based on their skills or stress and fatigue levels.

The business reduced its telematics events from 20,000 a month to approximately 2,000 and no rollovers for three years.

You don’t need expensive technology or incentives for good driver management programs. A horse float operator I met about 15 years ago displayed an innovative, tech-free approach to driver safety. They transported race horses worth millions and employed horse handlers who could drive, rather than drivers who could handle horses. The owner of the fleet would dip the fuel tanks upon return and if he saw anything unusual about the fuel levels, he’d talk to the driver directly. “What’s going on at home?” he’d ask. “You’ve guzzled more fuel than normal and I know it’s not the rig, because I’ve just had it serviced.” His approach was very old school, and for his fleet it was highly effective. While telematics have their place, not all fleets have the money or time to invest in them. Looking at your fuel records and tyre wear for each driver can often tell you just as much as telematics can.

Research shows that 98 per cent of road incidents occur due to human error, but the greatest opportunities for improvements can be found by digging deeper into the underlying reasons why incidents occur in the first place. You can’t just rely on data from telematics. You need to see and talk to people in person, so you can understand the causes of underperformance. Note crashes are just one form of underperformance. There are much better lead indicators of drivers service and safety and what’s going on for them outside of work. It’s common for drivers to have issues at home or the occasional bad night of sleep – that’s just part of normal human life. And it’s why an effective driver performance management program that looks at all the factors affecting your drivers can not only save you money, it can also save lives.

Peter Johansson is a Senior Risk Engineer at Zurich Financial Services Australia. With more than 20 years’ experience in loss control, he helps Zurich customers develop effective driver performance management programs that save them much more than just the cost of fuel.


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