The recent fleet safety case study on the Sutherland Shire Council (SSC) released by the National Road Safety Partnership Program (NRSPP) highlighted the benefits of embracing a safety culture and that a journey of continuous improvement does deliver results when there is consultation, education and explanation.
Fleet Auto News was introduced to Mark Mills, Manager of Fleet and Logistics at SSC, and David Newell-Courtney, Coordinator Fleet and Workshops, at the webinar, hosted by Jerome Carslake from NRSPP, which provided the 150 attendees a chance to learn more about the SSC journey and ask some specific questions on how they implemented the changes.
Mills has over 30 years of experience in local government and 25 years in fleet management. He has been at SSC for eight years and is a member of the IPWEA Fleet Council. Newell-Courtney started at SSC as a apprentice mechanic 26 years ago and has a deep understanding of the organisation and the community.
The SSC has the 2nd largest population in NSW for a council. It operates 133 light vehicles, 177 trucks/plant and 46 garbage trucks. The council has categorised 48% of the assets as high/extreme risk due to the daily movements, number of interactions with the community and the significant waste management operations.
A change in the way the council viewed risk and community safety were a catalyst for the fleet team to take a more proactive approach with safety. A review of safety practices was also shaped by changing legislation that placed more responsibility (and liability) on equipment users and business owners.
Population growth and changes to housing density also challenged the fleet team. They had to reassess how services were provided and the type of equipment being used.
These external factors also influenced a change in organisational culture over time. The Executives set the tone with a new focus on safety and rewarding a behaviour of reporting potential risks and near miss incidents. They encouraged staff to develop new ideas and review activities to identify successes, and failures, so lessons can be learned, and shared.
Strategic Fleet Management
Historically the council fleet department focused only on purchase price when selecting vehicles and plant. This meant the asset register was stacked with low quality assets that increased the number of incidents, and the risk for the community.
The fleet team developed a strategic approach which included the following elements:
- Strong operating framework including asset plans, safe operating procedures and fleet policies
- Good quality and well maintained assets
- Fit for Purpose assessment during the procurement process
- Business consultation with key stakeholders across the council
- Having regular dialogue with operators on equipment performance and how their jobs are changing
- Industry engagement and staff education to increase knowledge, capability and external support
- Looking for new technology and different work practices
A key indicator for the SSC fleet team is how many vehicles pass their annual safety inspections. The historical low pass rate suggested the council was being reactive with maintenance and fixing things when they failed. In 2021 the majority of work is planned maintenance which has resulted in a significant reduction in vehicle failures during the annual safety inspections.
The new approach required a review of workshop capability, service schedules and staff knowledge. SSC partnered with suppliers to review the maintenance plan to ensure the service regimes matched the asset’s utilisation. Staff were trained regularly on the changes to safety legislation and attended manufacturer training to increase their knowledge.
Understanding workforce capability was important because of the diverse range of plant and equipment. SSC acknowledged that mechanics couldn’t be experts on each piece of equipment. They worked with the OE suppliers to diagnose faults and accessed their technical services to fix complicated issues. Common faults were also included in the planned maintenance schedules.
Incident reporting and financial management were critical to prove the success of the preventative maintenance program because it was easy to see increased costs and not the benefits. The Whole of Life analysis implemented during the procurement process supported the regular maintenance program with increased resales.
Selecting the right KPIs such as incidents, near misses and employee satisfaction also help show the benefits over time of a preventative maintenance program.
This was never an issue with local vehicle manufacturing. Fleet Managers picked Holden, Ford, Toyota or Mitsubishi (normally in this order) as a preferred supplier. When HR departments got involved during the 1990s, some organisations would give employees two choices.
Post GFC and the closure of local car factories, SSC ended up with a carpark of light fleet vehicles from 11 manufacturers with 35 variants. Over the years this has been standardise using a strategic fleet management framework.
With the heavy fleet, SSC aim to buy the best quality which has lead to some standardisation on the fleet. One area where SSC has focused on standardisation is the accessories for heavy vehicles. It ensures operators are familiar with equipment when they move between vehicles which reduces the chances of an incident.
Residents are the best monitors of poor safety by council employees and the old way was to react to issues raised by the community or law enforcement.
SSC now has telematics fitted to 240 assets, uses a Mass Management System on heavy vehicles and mobile digital video recording on waste trucks.
They regularly review speed and mass breaches and use the data to educate drivers and managers on areas of concern. SSC have found its important to be consistent with drivers and supervisors to ensure there is a positive conversation before significant issues occur.
Supervisors can get carried away with the detail in the data so its a challenge to balance the conversation around risk management and compliance. The fleet team use the telematics exception reports in Tool Box talks with operators as part of the safety education program.
Cameras help with incident investigation. SSC had a garbage truck catch fire and the mobile video showed that a tyre exploded and created excessive heat that started a fire in the waste compartment. Without the cameras it would have been hard for the fleet team to determine the cause of fire and it could have lead to a different conclusion and a second incident.
As a result of the investigation SSC changed the way they manage tyres and stopped using retreads on waste trucks.
The cameras have also reduced the number of insurance claims from the community when they claim that a council vehicle damage their property.
Pre-start checks using an electronic system to identify faults has allowed the council to place accountability on the driver/operator to identify potential faults and book them into the workshop for repair.
Chain of Responsibility (CoR)
The council was aware of the legislation in 2014 and was unsure of the impacts and benefits it would provide. In 2016 they conducted a desktop assessment and found a large number of non-compliances. From this they engaged the Executive Management team and gained support to take a holistic approach across the business.
The council now conducts annual audits to ensure compliance.
2020 FleetSafe Initiative
In 2019 after so much positive change and improvements the number of fleet related incidents was still higher than the team were comfortable with. They sought support from the executive team to implement this program.
The goal is zero incidents and the list of focus areas are:
- Employee safety and wellbeing
- Achieve ZERO fleet safety incidents
- Focus on operator and driver competence
- Create a workforce of fully trained operators of plant
- Develop a CARE culture
- Links and contributes to SCC Safety Roadmap
- Simplifies and improves safety documentation
- A licence is no longer enough – an employee must demonstrate competency
Fleet safety and operational safety is a continuous journey. SSC have been working on it for eight years and there is still a lot of things to still do.