The ‘black cloud syndrome’

black cloudOne of the fundamental skills of anyone responsible for fleet safety management is the ability to connect and engage with drivers in order to promote driver safety and wellbeing. However, all too often line managers are catapulted into running a fleet from another part of the business, and as a result end up focussing on productivity and efficiency rather than health and safety. In this special post, we explore the steps line managers can take to fine-tune their behavioural safety skill set and keep their drivers safe…


Paper mountain
For many line managers, health and safety paperwork only exists in case something goes wrong rather than to educate, inform and improve driver safety standards. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lack of accountability and responsibility from both management and drivers, as the paperwork that sits in the filing cabinet or lies dormant on the hard drive has little or no value on a day-to-day basis. The bottom line is, even if an organisation has all of the paperwork in place – risk assessments, driver training records, driving licence records, vehicle checks, telemetry data, it won’t stop a crash from happening, the only thing that can do that is us, people!

Clear vision
It’s essential, therefore, for line managers to translate their behavioural safety skills towards fleet safety management. It may sound obvious, but for many managers under pressure to reach productivity and efficiency targets, driver and vehicle safety often get compromised, or in some cases completely overlooked. An increased responsibility for safety, an attention to the lifestyles of drivers and, not least, an awareness of the organisational pressures that drivers are placed under, is crucial to ensure driver safety and well-being remain at the forefront of an organisation’s philosophy. In the case of running a fleet of vehicles in sectors such as energy, logistics and retail, there is little more dangerous than an ‘us and them’ mentality between the management and the driving populations. The message of safety should be underpinned by a clear vision and strategy and, more importantly, understood by everyone within the organisation, from the CEO downwards.


The Black Cloud Syndrome

This is a term used to describe a poor or fragmented organisational safety culture relating to driving for work. Although this term may sound unfamiliar, nearly every organisation has one to some extent. Here’s an example that might be familiar:

Andy is a delivery driver for an on-line shopping retailer. Lately, he and some of his colleagues have been feeling disillusioned at work due to the introduction of a same day delivery service increasing the pressure to make sure their deliveries arrive at the customers addresses on time. Because of the new service, Andy and the other drivers are being forced to wait longer for their vans to be loaded causing them to be late for their deliveries.

To make things worse, Andy’s Line Manager has recently logged on to his vehicle telematics portal to assess and evaluate his recent driving style and behaviour. Andy’s reports have flagged up numerous occasions where harsh braking and acceleration events have taken place and on a couple of occasions, speeding has been identified.

On one particular report, Andy’s Line Manager was able to track his performance over the course of his shift and noticed that his first harsh braking event occurred before he had even left the gates of the store. In addition, a reduction in his overall MPG has also been identified within his reports.

Because of the nature of the telemetry reports, Andy has been told he must attend an in-vehicle training course to improve his driving. Although Andy has never been involved in an incident during his driving career and has held a clean driving licence for over 20 years, his line manager told him that it was company policy to arrange driver training for anyone who has been identified as being in the high-risk category for their vehicle telemetry data.

As it happens, Andy performed extremely well during his driving session. His telemetry data was fine and he received a glowing report from his trainer. The next day however, when the pressure was back on, his telemetry data started to look bad again.

Now ask yourself, is Andy’s telemetry data demonstrating that he is at high risk or is it the management of staff back at the store that is ultimately creating the road risk?
As the above example illustrates, line managers and senior managers can make a real difference within their organisation by simply stepping back to view the world through the eyes of a driver. A simple nudge in a different direction can pay dividends towards improving both health and safety and operating costs.

Back to basics
With the ever-advancing vehicle technologies available to fleet operators and the role of fleet manager outsourced by many organisations, it’s easy to see how accountability, responsibility and basic behavioural safety (or common sense) can become diluted. Although vehicle technology should be embraced for its capabilities to improve safety, costs and efficiency, it can be counterproductive if used in the wrong way. For some organisations this can breed a culture of poor driver and manager behaviour, especially when everyone is too busy focussing on hitting targets that simple fixes to simple issues get overlooked.
So, what’s causing the black clouds within your organisation and what simple nudges need to be made to create a sunnier outlook?


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RoSPA Fleet Safety are working to reduce occupational road risk using innovative, behaviour-based solutions. Our goal is to be the global leader in driver and fleet safety. 

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