11 Mar 20

How to get global safety right

Safety first! But how do you get safety right? For multinational fleets, that can be especially challenging: fleet managers must align global safety standards with different local cultures. That’s hard work, but it helps to have the right vision.

As any CEO will tell you, a company’s most precious asset is its human capital. Caring for your employees is not just a sign of corporate benevolence – it makes good business sense. So, safety is paramount. But is it absolute?

Driving culture

Fleet managers with responsibilities across various markets are confronted with widely varying cultures, also when it comes to driving culture, not to mention very different regulations.

Ideally, you level up: using best-in-class safety standards to lift the tide in all markets across the world. But even when it comes to safety, one size does not fit all. Safety can be a challenging topic in certain emerging markets. But even between mature fleet markets, there are notable differences.

To prevent your global safety policy from becoming an exercise in futility and frustration, it’s useful to take stock of the difference between desirable outcomes and realistic expectations. That will help you bring those two as close together as possible.

Direct Energy

Also: don’t forget where you’re starting from. Case in point is Direct Energy. As one of North America’s largest retail providers of electricity, natural gas and energy-related services for the private and corporate sectors, Direct Energy is deeply embedded across the various states of the U.S. and the provinces of Canada, serving its 4 million customers in North America. However, as a wholly owned subsidiary of UK-based energy company Centrica, Direct Energy also has a presence in other parts of the world.

From a safety policy point of view, that’s an interesting dichotomy, says Dina Kushaliyeva (pictured, left), Senior Health, Safety and Environment Manager for Direct Energy – and winner of the 2019 Fleet Safety award at the Fleet Safety Conference (held last October in Henderson, NV). On the one hand, there’s North America, where the situation is less homogenous than a European would presume. “Each U.S. state sets its own rules and regulations, also when it comes to safety. From our perspective, it’s a challenge to match that with a central policy,” says Ms. Kushaliyeva.

State regulations

But there is a system to that challenge: “As a rule, we align ourselves to the most stringent set of state regulations. That obviously makes it easier to adapt to the rules of all the other states in which we are present. And as a rule, that state is California – they’re often the strictest one when it comes to environmental or safety standards.”

That same principle also extends to Canada’s various provinces. But once beyond the shores of North America, it’s a different picture: “The regulatory environment is just too different. That makes it even more difficult to centralise a fleet safety policy. So we use a different approach: we have a minimal ceiling, and adapt this upward on a per-country basis.”

That ceiling consists of commonly-held principles – for example: companies must provide safe working environments for their employees. How that is enacted, varies greatly across countries: “The minimum requirement for corporate drivers could just be a licence in one country, an extra certificate in another one. That has to be codified and verified locally.”

Regulatory climate

How hard it is to implement a safety policy also depends on the regulatory climate of each country. “The Netherlands, for example, stands out as one of the most heavily regulated countries in Europe when it comes to driver safety,” says Ms Kushaliyeva. In that sense, the Dutch may be the Californians of Europe. But the various national regulations across the continent are too divergent for the Dutch example to be the standard across Europe.

But what about the world beyond Europe and North America? With a fleet of 24,000 vehicles and a presence in around 90 markets, Philip Morris International (PMI) runs a truly global fleet. “Our fleets have three major safety challenges,” says Nikola Vuckovic (pictured, right), Global Market & Fleet Safety Manager: “Firstly, capillary distribution with direct store delivery, straight to the Point of Sales; secondly, we’re expanding in some high-risk markets in Africa and Middle East; and thirdly, the typical profile of our sales personnel – agile, male, self-confident, 25 to 35 years old – matches with a demographic that spells risk when it comes to driver behaviour.”

That’s why fleet safety is key to PMI’s fleet policy: there is a set of strict global guidelines, but there is flexibility to adapt them locally. “You need to be flexible. You can’t just copy-paste the safety programmes from Switzerland to Brazil, South Africa or Indonesia and expect the same result,” says Mr Vuckovic.

Red lines

There are some red lines, though: “The implementation of our management systems is absolutely the same across the globe; but the reverse applies to driver training, which absolutely needs to be adapted to the local risks, driving environment and culture.”

A truly effective global fleet safety strategy requires some essential buy-ins, Mr Vuckovic knows: “Safety starts at the top. You need global top management to be on board. But local management also needs to commit. Then you can adapt the global standard to the local level.”

Telematics is an increasingly relevant instrument for PMI’s global fleet safety policy: “It helps improve driver safety, overall cost-effectiveness and global CO2 impact. But it’s important to ensure the drivers don’t get the sense that telematics is Big Brother. That’s why we recognise and reward good behaviour, and use elements of positive competition between drivers.”

Global equaliser

Using telematics to identify safety issues and offer tailored driver training has helped PMI reduce its accident rates by 40% in Ukraine and by 50% in South Africa – previously the most unenviable market by far when it comes to fleet safety performances. No wonder then that telematics is one of the key elements to the multinational’s future safety policy: “Right now, about 40 % of our WTC fleet is equipped with telematics. Within next few years, we want full coverage.”

When it comes to fleet safety, telematics may turn out to be the great global equaliser that legislation has failed to be.

Leading picture copyright: Shutterstock

Authored by: Frank Jacobs