One of the most pressing issues currently facing the UK transport industry is driver retention. Hanging onto experienced and capable drivers is proving particularly challenging for British fleet operators. Although driver salaries have risen above inflation in recent years, with generous bonuses and overtime on offer, the sector has struggled to recruit younger employees and is reliant on overseas EU recruits to a large extent.
But with the spectre of Brexit looming increasingly large, this particular source of labour may soon be cut off or at least seriously restricted. And the scale of the shortage is significant – according to the Freight Transport Association, there's a shortfall between the number of registered HGVs and qualified drivers of more than 34,000. This makes the issue of driver retention all the more important, as fleet operators are faced with the urgent need to prevent this shortage from widening further.
Fleet operators therefore need to consider driver wellbeing as a high priority. A happy and healthy workforce is likely to be a more stable one – reducing staff turnover at a time when new recruits are generally proving hard to come by.
Everyone has a responsibility for driver wellbeing
Firstly, it's essential to remember that employers and employees alike have responsibilities with regard to driver wellbeing. Everyone concerned therefore has to be aware of those responsibilities – drivers shouldn't be left to shoulder the burden on their own. Employers must ensure they create a culture where road safety is championed and where everyone knows what's expected of them in upholding the appropriate standards.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also stipulates that employers must take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees at work. Employers who are found to have failed to uphold this responsibility may find themselves liable to criminal prosecution in the event of an accident. However, fleet operators shouldn't take this to mean that their role ends with the close of the working day – it is important for them to encourage drivers to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing outside work too through education and encouraging better lifestyle habits.
What can employers do?
Obviously, ensuring drivers work reasonable hours is of the utmost importance. Nearly one-fifth of accidents on major roads are sleep-related, of which 40 per cent involve commercial vehicles. Drivers who have had insufficient rest are far more likely to be involved in accidents, as they're less perceptive and their reaction times tend to be considerably slower. Fleet operators must therefore ensure drivers are allowed adequate rest periods and that they actually make use of them.
Training and development can also play a crucial role in enhancing driver wellbeing. Fleet operators should also make this clear in the staff handbooks they provide. Employees should be made aware of the dangers of driving while tired as well as taking part in health and wellbeing courses. Employers could also encourage drivers to make healthier life choices by offering them free or discounted gym memberships, vouchers for healthy food, and so on.
How Fleet Tracking can help?
Fleet Tracking can also play a valuable role in boosting driver wellbeing. Fleet tracking technology allows fleet managers to monitor vehicle location – so they can see how long drivers took breaks for and when – as well as tracking various aspects of driver performance. Heavy braking, aggressive cornering and harsh acceleration, for example, are strong indicators of driver fatigue, being able to identify these behaviours in real time can help fleet manager’s identity potentially dangers situations and take action before an incident occurs.
As training and development strategies relating to driver wellbeing are implemented, GPS fleet tracking data also gives fleet managers a better idea of whether they are helping to improve driving standards – and hence overall road safety. Of course, there are many factors which can affect driver wellbeing. But the use of fleet tracking systems as part of a proactive approach to improving employees' physical and mental health can offer significant benefits, providing a knowledge base to inform training and development programmes.