Aug

Taking it Further

2011-08-01 19:44
If all reputable operators were to lower their standards, we'd see a lot more accidents on our roads. We need to RAISE not lower the bar and that is what the CALL TO ACTION is all about

The FleetWatch Call to Action day held at the Shongweni Truck, Car, Bike and Outdoor Show was truly that , an action day with live music incorporating the launch of our road safety song, interactive drumming, presenters sharing interesting and relevant information and a receptive audience of top level delegates from the industry. But , now we have to take it further writes Patrick O’Leary.

One of the ‘˜criticisms’ that came my way from the Call to Action day was that the audience consisted mainly of the ‘˜converted’ , the good guy transporters who are already doing things right. “The real culprits who don’t maintain their trucks, don’t train their drivers and generally just cause havoc out there, were not there,’ was the one comment.

Well yes. They weren’t there. And they were never expected to be there for the simple reason that they don’t care enough to look for ways to improve. Of course it would have been wonderful to have such operators present but we really didn’t expect them to answer the call.

Does that mean then that the whole day was a waste of time? That getting the ‘˜good guys’ on side as a united force was not worth the effort. To answer this question, let me relate this true story.

Many years ago, I was in Lusaka in Zambia visiting some local operators. Towards the end of a busy day, my host was driving me back to the Pamodzi Hotel where I was staying. On the way, and not far from the Pamodzi, we passed what looked like a pretty low-life corner pub. Outside, however, parked on the pavement, were the fanciest wheels you could find in Lusaka , all up-market cars, which seemed strange given the run­down look of the venue.

I asked my host who the guys were who frequented that pub as, by the look of the cars, it certainly gave the impression they were the upper-crust of Lusaka’s society. He answered. “They are mainly the ex-pats who live in Lusaka.’

“But why don’t they drink in the Pamodzi Hotel. It’s much fancier there. More luxurious, comfortable and classy,’ I asked, thinking of the pleasant bar/lounge where we had enjoyed a few drinks the night before to the background music of an accomplished pianist tinkling the keys.

He replied: “The Pamodzi is where they start but after a while, they drop their standards to the lowest common denominator and that’s where they stay.’

So, instead of pulling people up from the ‘˜crummy looking’ pub and helping them raise their standards, those with high standards dropped them by the wayside and started operating at a lower level of life.

Via the Call to Action day, the MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison for KwaZulu Natal, Mr Willis Mchunu, was exposed to the trucking industry's willingness to raise standards and improve road safety , a move he welcomed and pledged his support. Government needs to get closer to the trucking industry on all fronts and recognise it for the vital player it is in the economy.

Via the Call to Action day, the MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison for KwaZulu Natal, Mr Willis Mchunu, was exposed to the trucking industry’s willingness to raise standards and improve road safety , a move he welcomed and pledged his support. Government needs to get closer to the trucking industry on all fronts and recognise it for the vital player it is in the economy.

Now, imagine this. What would happen if all the transporters who attended the Call to Action day suddenly decided to lower their standards and operate at the level of some of the reprobates we see out there. They already have to share the roads with such guys with often disastrous and deadly consequences.

How much worse would our road accidents be if the Imperials, the Barloworlds, the Unitrans, the Manlines, the Bakers Transport, the Cargo Carriers of this industry had to drop their standards and go down to join the lowest common denominator? The current 15 000 road deaths a year would pale into insignificance compared to what would follow should our good operators choose to leave the Pamodzi.

A good thing

That is why having ‘˜best practice’ operators there on the day was a good rather than a bad thing. By linking hands in a show of unity and common purpose, such operators can show the way forward. They can set the example for others to follow. They can raise the bar and set it at a level to which others can aspire. And that is what needs to be done.

This industry needs ‘˜best practice’ examples that others can follow. The industry needs a ‘˜level’ at which all truck operators can pitch their operations so to raise the professionalism of the entire industry and in so doing, become an even more vital contributor to the economy than it already is , but with one big difference. It sheds its ‘˜Cinderella’ status and becomes recognised and respected by all as a responsible sector that all South Africans can be proud of. The image of the industry is elevated to its rightful platform of importance in the eyes of all.

Are we dreaming? No! I don’t believe we are. It can be achieved but we need to pull the guys from the low-life ‘˜corner pub’ up into the Pamodzi. We don’t need to go down the road to join them in that crummy pub. Enough examples were given on the day to show exactly the level at which those ‘˜corner pub’ patrons operate. It is not where this industry needs to be. We have to pull them up to the Pamodzi level , for everybody’s sake.

Certainly there will always be those who don’t want to leave that level. We accept that. After all, it is far easier to go unnoticed as you stagger blind drunk out of a pub where everyone else is as slammed as you are than it is staggering out of a place where a higher level of behaviour is observed. As it stands today, however, I’m sad to say that the entire industry is seen as being a low­life breed of ‘˜pisscats’ , and I use that word not literally but in line with the ‘˜pub’ theme of this article.

Harsh and condemning

That may be harsh but one need only listen to any radio talk show where people phone in with their comments on trucks. The remarks are harsh and condemning of trucks as a whole with no differentiation made between companies which operate to a high level of standards and ethics and those who don’t. You’re all lumped into the same basket. You’re all drinking at that same ‘˜low-life’ pub.

The great pity of this is that the many truck operators who operate to world class , and in some cases world leading standards – go unnoticed. They are not given the recognition they truly deserve. This must change.

Yes, the foundation of the Call to Action day was built on the need 29 for the trucking industry to lead the country into a new era of road safety but it was also to start the process of elevating the industry onto a higher platform of recognition and importance in South Africa. This will not be done by the ‘˜low-life’ operators who don’t care for any form of standards. It will be done by the ‘˜Pamodzi’ operators setting an example to which others will aspire and aim.

Raising the bar higher

And what really pleases us is that the day served to inspire such operators to become even better , to raise the bar even higher. An example of this came via a letter received after the event from Francois van Rensburg, Divisional Director: Dedicated Transport Services at Barloworld Logistics Africa. Here’s what he wrote.

“First and foremost, WELL DONE on a very successful and worthwhile campaign! As discussed with you, I want to re-iterate Barloworld Logistics’ support for this campaign. It not only aligns strongly to our own sustainability strategy for road transportation in South Africa but is also what our industry needs.

“A number of key fundamental topics emerged for me and our other attendees:

  1. The most neglected area in fleet management is trailer maintenance and upkeep.
  2. Suspicious procurement practices.
  3. Sub-standard tyre practices and protocols.
  4. Driver fatigue.
  5. Lack of appropriate minimum standards/governing body for operators.

“The above prompted us to request Marlene Visagie, our Risk Manager, to launch our own Dedicated Transport Services Call to Action blitz campaign focussing on topics 1 , 4 highlighted above in the next few months with a view to confirm that our own practices and protocols remain at the forefront of the industry.

“We would like to communicate with you formally as to the outcomes, actions and projects that we have embarked on to support this campaign. We will also assist you as to ideas to drive home topic 5 above.

“My view is that we must follow this up with a practical workshop before the end of this calendar year on the topics above but with specific emphasis on tactics as to how to tackle topic number 5 above. Once again WELL DONE!’

Now how’s that for raising the bar. Here is a company that already strives to operate to Best Practice and yet is going full out to “confirm that its own practices and protocols remain at the forefront of the industry’. FleetWatch salutes you for this proactive stance.

Pioneering initiative

Another letter was received from the representative of one of the banks, a sector which is so vital to the success of the industry. It came from Kathy Bell, Head: Transport Solutions, Specialised Finance at Standard Bank Vehicle and Asset Finance, who wrote:
“Thank you for such an awesome pioneering initiative and providing a platform for a ‘˜homologated’ approach to issues that are critically important to the transport industry!

“The emphasis was on raising issues that are directly related to quality issues in the industry and drilling home the concept that we are all accountable and responsible.

“Very often the funders in the system (the banks) are referred to as having “tight purse strings” but sadly, in my view, the opposite has been closer to the truth in the past, as evidenced by the failure rate in some instances of hauliers/ transporters that were in business for many years. The common factor here was poor transport rates, poor contracts and poor systems and controls for loading, safety and low concern for the drivers.

“I support the idea that you suggested – and should be mooted namely, a qualification period prior to entering the transport industry which should be premised on all the relevant Legislation and Regulations and an “apprenticeship” at a best practice, best in class transport and supply chain transport organization.

“Furthermore, funders should be guided by a transport specialist having verified this by what I refer to as “licking the oil, sniffing the diesel, kicking the tyres and checking the kingpin and making sure that nothing is slack about the slack adjusters!” In other words, a complete fleet audit must be carried out on-site at the main depot and all supporting depots including loading and off-loading points to ensure that systems, processes and procedures are in place and operational to ensure that a professional transport service can be provided.

“Contract providers have an obligation that the transport rate must be benchmarked on a rate that includes a preventative maintenance programme, meeting all legislative requirements, driving hours (even if not legislated yet) and a payload which meets all permissible legal load requirements. Escalation clauses for fuel rate adjustments and all other increases such as interest rate, wages, etc. must be adjusted and clearly referred to as such in the main contract.

“This, in my view, will ensure that an open-book costing approach with an emphasis on safety and compliance will be the breeding ground that is the critical contributor to a safe truck, safe load and safe driver, transporter of choice.

“These are just some of my thoughts arising from the FleetWatch Call to Action day and I put them forward in support of a transport industry that is not reviled for being risky – which is presently the sad reality – but revered for being professional, efficient, cost effective, trustworthy and the biggest contributor to GDP in SA!’

Awesome feedback and thank you for that Kathy , better known in the industry as the real ‘˜mother trucker’. Note her ending words: “a transport industry that is revered for being professional, efficient, cost effective, and trustworthy and the biggest contributor to GDP in SA!’ Link those words to the comment above, namely, that the Call to Action was also “to start the process of elevating the industry onto a higher platform of recognition and importance in South Africa.’ The desire is there. We just have to make it happen.

We have received a lot of feedback from other companies and there are many actions that now need to be taken. We have consolidated some of the desired approaches and will be filtering these out to the industry , via the magazine and our website.

In the meantime, suffice to say that the industry is ready for change. It is ready to set the example for others to follow. It is ready, as Kathy Bell says, to occupy its rightful position away from being scorned to being revered for being professional, efficient, cost effective, trustworthy and the biggest contributor to GDP in SA! Let’s do it.

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