Collisions are a costly part of business life, but thoroughly investigating why they happen can prevent similar incidents occurring again. All accidents should be treated as an opportunity to learn & improve. Start with the basics – collect and analyse the facts. Sounds simple, but asking the right questions in the right way, and collating via smart technology takes specialist expertise and resources. The smart solution for any fleet operators is to partner with experts, a robust accident management programme will deliver timely, efficient & effective data reporting – and that will pay dividends on the journey to reducing vehicle crashes. But a robust accident management programme isn’t just about information. It should also provide 24/7 emergency response, driver safety & repatriation, and replacement vehicles, as well as insurance claims facilitation, assessing co-ordination and comprehensive collision repair management. A tailored accident management solution will protect the health & safety of drivers, and ensure vehicles are repaired to manufacturers’ specifications to maintain the safety, integrity & value of the asset.
Dealing with road collisions is an unfortunate part of a fleet manager’s life. As well as the safety implication of having drivers involved in incidents, the employer also faces costs from repairs, vehicle off-road time and lost productivity. But while a collision is never good news, fleet managers can use the opportunity to find out the underlying reason for it and this information, in turn, can be used to prevent similar events occurring in future. “Investigating road collisions provides the evidence base to understand how future collisions can be prevented or injuries mitigated,” says Richard Cuerden, chief scientist in engineering and technology at TRL, which runs a CPD-accredited vehicle accident investigation course for fleet operations and health and safety managers. “Part of an active collision prevention strategy must involve learning lessons from previous incidents, identifying the trends and the priority areas to address.” Cuerden adds: “The ultimate benefit is a safer fleet, happier and safer employees, and lower operating costs.”
Incidents happen suddenly and without warning, says the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), so managing their consequences and learning from them requires the ability to act quickly and efficiently to avoid learning opportunities being missed. This means organisations need well thought out and rehearsed processes for responding to incidents and near misses effectively. Different companies may take different approaches, but RoSPA, which also offers a collision investigation course for fleet managers, says the essence of good investigation is to gather evidence from physical sources, documentation and witness interviews, and then reach conclusions, make recommendations, and communicate and implement any necessary improvements. RoSPA says the starting point for any organisation is to ensure a comprehensive accident and incident reporting and investigation policy is in place, and forms part of its ‘driving for work’ document.
- Accident is an event that results in personal injury to a staff member or another person, or results in property damage, categorised according to severity.
- Incident is a dangerous occurrence that breaches the organisation’s driving for work policy or safe driving practice and could include a motoring offence, or data from a telematics system.
- Near miss is a dangerous occurrence that has the potential to result in personal injury to a staff member or another person, or to result in property damage.
This policy should state that all work-related collisions and near misses (including damage-only ones and ones involving grey fleet vehicles) must be reported to a line manager or other nominated manager.
It should also state that all collisions, incidents and near misses will be investigated to establish how and why they occurred and to learn how to prevent them in the future.
In essence, the purpose of an investigation is to establish what happened, when, where, how, why, to who and with what consequences. A fleet manager who is considering investigating incidents for the first time should “keep it simple”, says Cuerden. “It is important to investigate all incidents regardless of whether anyone was injured or whether the extent of the damage or costs was low,” he adds. “All incidents should be treated as opportunities to learn and improve. Start with the basics and by collecting facts. “Following a collision, there will be a lot of opinion and even blame and this can be confusing and emotions can be charged, leading to a dilution of the facts. “However, you must have clarity about why you’re investigating the incidents and what you want to objectively record – the aim being to measure risk.” Rick Wood, head of fleet safety at RoSPA, says it is important to make it clear to drivers that any investigation is not a finger-pointing exercise. “There can be a positive change in culture if investigations are carried out with transparency and without blame,” he adds. “When incidents happen, the instinct is for drivers to try to deflect blame or even try to hide what’s happened. “The issue with this is that if an unsafe practice isn’t dealt with early it can lead to something much more serious occurring in the future. “The benefits of creating a culture of preventability are that lessons can be learned to avoid repetition and spread best practice throughout the organisation.”
Wood says it is vital that investigations discover “the true root cause” of any incident. “This is rarely a lack of driving skill and is much more likely to be about the internal and external motivators and beliefs that affect how a driver behaves,” he says. “Look at the journey, the vehicle and the driver to establish what the risks are and how they can be mitigated. “Most important is to identify the pressures exerted on the driver by the organisation – particularly the line manager. “And pay particular attention to time pressures that may come from both the organisation and from within the driver themselves.” Wood and Cuerden say the onus is on each organisation to decide for itself what information is of fundamental importance for it to ascertain what’s happened. This needs to be clearly defined in its accident and incident reporting and investigation policy. This data frequently includes driver and witness statements, photographic evidence, relevant details from insurers, telematics reports, dash cam evidence as well as professionally commissioned reports on individual driver’s abilities. RoSPA says it is essential drivers know what they should do in the event of an incident.
One way to do this is to provide an accident/incident information pack to be kept in the vehicle, which drivers should complete and return to their line manager. Fleet managers should draw up a list of the information drivers should collect as soon as possible after the event and provide a simple form to help drivers record the required information.
RoSPA says when the information has been gathered, it should be entered into the organisation’s recording system for analysis. This will help a fleet manager identify and measure trends and key risks, which will enable appropriate measures, such as targeted training, to be implemented.
RoSPA suggests that the findings of an investigation and the recommendations for action to prevent the event happening again should also be shared with all staff, for example through internal communications such as the intranet and noticeboards. Wood says: “Many incidents are similar in nature and lessons learned can lead to a reduction in their frequency. “For instance, manoeuvring incidents can be reduced at points of delivery if a best practice method can be identified and communicated to all drivers. “And if you can reduce repetitive incidents this can lead to cost reductions – particularly those that are hidden such as admin, downtime, hire-in of replacement drivers and vehicles plus any necessary time off work. “These hidden costs are generally taken to be up to four times the bent metal costs.” Cuerden adds: “I think the best advice for organisations is to seek the input of road safety professionals who can ensure that their data reporting is timely, efficient and effective. But all information collected must be kept within data protection guidelines to ensure its legitimacy. “Furthermore, a proactive analysis of the information is vital and a relational database must be established to securely store the information. “It can then be used for statistical analysis as well as to sign-off and manage all incidents and provide feedback to the involved employees, such as offering follow-up training, advice or tips if required. “If organisations follow these guidelines it shows comprehensively they’re proactively seeking to reduce collisions.”
Talk to Crash Management now about tailoring a fully customised accident management programme to best suit your operational requirements and budget.