By Anton Cornelissen, Head of Santam Heavy Haulage
The past 18 months have not been easy for the South African trucking industry. The continuance of sporadic torching of trucks and attacks on truck drivers, service delivery protests and looting, the lockdown and various restrictions associated with the Covid 19 pandemic have further crippled the already strained industry. In the below piece, Anton Cornelissen, Head of Santam Heavy Haulage talks about the state of the South African truck industry concluding that to ensure the sustainability of the industry, a partnership approach among all stakeholders must be adopted.
Since the mass torching of trucks on the N3 Mooi River in 2018, the trucking industry has faced numerous challenges that have threatened not only the sustainability of the sector but to some extent, the stability of the African economy. This was exacerbated in July via the unrest in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng which saw the trucking sector hard hit and the N3 closed for a number of days. The N3 serves as the gateway to the largest and busiest shipping terminal in sub–Saharan Africa, the Port of Durban, which handles up to 31.4 million tons of cargo per annum.
While the socio-economic environment in South Africa, which is marred by an abnormally high rate of unemployment cannot be ignored or dismissed for some of the social ills, there have also been elements of criminal opportunism.
Due to the restrictions and limitation of transportation of essential goods during the hard lockdown, transporters have seen a massive drop in their turnovers, with most having to downsize and some even permanently closing. Those who are lucky enough to still be operational now have to stretch their staff and chase deadlines, which places further pressure and fatigue on drivers due to the long hours on the road. This is a major concern.
With the recent extensions in the validity of expired driver’s licenses, most of the drivers have not had to do their medical check-ups in a while in order to renew their professional driving permits (PRDPs), which is a health and safety hazard. These factors are highlighted by the rise in the number of single vehicle accidents, which can be attributed mainly to driver error. This has been the main reason why, over the past few years, Santam has collaborated with the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) to advocate for driver wellness.
With these challenges, Santam Heavy Haulage, as an insurance partner to the trucking industry, has sought to educate both clients and brokers on how to better manage and mitigate risk in order to keep insurance premiums at a minimum. Insurance has traditionally been viewed as a grudge purchase but recent events have highlighted the critical role it can play in minimising financial loss.
Being in the digital age, technology has become an important part of any business and the trucking industry is no exception. Telematics should be a necessity for transporters, not only for data collection but also for proactive risk management, with various safety features being incorporated in most new model trucks.
Route planning, which requires information gathering, is also important. Where intelligence has been collected on planned attacks on trucks, Santam has always tried to share the information with our stakeholders to enable them to avoid certain routes. We also rely on law enforcement and private security companies to offer security in identified hot spots.
To be successful, businesses need to prioritise their people’s well-being. Drivers are the driving force behind the trucking industry. Entrusting them with assets and cargo worth millions requires that they are equipped with the necessary skills, a conducive working environment and regular access to medical check-ups to help them make better health choices.
With the rapid advancement of technology, driver training has become vital not only to sharpen driving skills but also to familiarise drivers with the new model trucks that are constantly being introduced to the market. Encouraging drivers to take regular stops during trips helps to reduce fatigue, which in turn minimises the chances of collision, which may lead to unwanted downtime in an already strained economic environment.
While we consider ourselves specialists in HCV and cargo insurance, we are operating in an ever-changing landscape that present new challenges on a daily basis, some never experienced before. This has compelled us to be flexible in our thinking and the way we do insurance. With various interactions, discussions, and collaboration with all stakeholders, we can ensure the sustainability of the industry. We must adopt a partnership, future-fit approach.
EDITOR’S FOOTNOTE: Santam Heavy Haulage has been walking its talk as evidenced by the company teaming up with the Road Traffic Management Corporation in hosting a Truck Driver Wellness Day on Thursday 28 October at the Heidelberg Weighbridge in Gauteng.
The event saw truck drivers receiving free health screening from Trucking Wellness, an initiative of the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry (NBCRFLI). National traffic police were also on hand to inspect trucks to ensure they were roadworthy and not overloaded.
Over the past few years, Santam has advocated strongly for driver wellness so as to raise awareness around fatigue and health issues that have a direct impact on truck accidents.
Heavy commercial trucks account for a disproportionate number of fatal vehicle accidents on the road. According to 2019 from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), they were involved in 11% of crash fatalities, despite only making up 0.34% of the vehicles on the road.
“Trucks and truck drivers are like the nation’s heartbeat. The goods they transport help keep the country alive. If you need proof of that, just look at the problems in the UK as a result of a lack of drivers. That is why it is important that we do our part to keep our drivers healthy – mentally and physically,” says Cornelissen, adding that truck drivers work under unique physically demanding conditions which put them at increased risk of a range of chronic health conditions that include diabetes and hypertension.
“These conditions, coupled with fatigue, can negatively affect reaction time and significantly increase the risk of collisions. This is why the event placed a major emphasis on driver safety.”
Taking it further than just that one day, Cornelissen has made a plea to fleet operators to prioritise the health and wellness of truck drivers.
“Through our partnership with the RMTC, we are endeavouring to increase safety on South African roads. We encourage drivers to get plenty of rest and a minimum of six hours of sleep before a long drive. They should also not drive continuously for more than five hours and follow this up with a break of at least 15 minutes.”
Thabiso Ndebele, executive manager of Road Safety Stakeholder and Marketing at RTMC, has also urged for greater accent to be placed on driver health and well-being. “The lockdowns have lifted and as we enter peak season, now is the time for heightened vigilance.”