Commentary

Change work culture, salary structure of heavy-vehicle drivers

Published: 4:15 AM, May 20, 2016

There are not many heavy vehicles on the road, but the impact they make — especially in accidents — is greater than that of most vehicles.

What is worrying is that heavy vehicles have been involved in a growing number of accidents — 877 accidents in 2015, a 4.5 per cent increase from the previous year. Of these, 34 accidents were fatal.

This roughly translates to one in four (25 per cent) fatal accidents here involving heavy vehicles, even though they account for only 5 per cent of the vehicle population.

Just this week, a 59-year-old woman was killed in an accident involving a cement mixer in Yishun.

This leads to concerns about the causes behind the crashes.

It is not easy driving heavy vehicles, with their weight ranging from 4.5 tonnes — equivalent to the weight of two elephants — to over 10 tonnes. Because of their sheer weight, they also require a greater distance to come to a complete stop.

And while the driver’s seat is higher than that of most other vehicles on the road, these drivers do not have a better vantage point. Their visibility is hindered due to the large blind spots that extend the entire length of both sides of the vehicle. But whose responsibility is it to ensure that operators of heavy vehicles drive safely?

Most recently, the Traffic Police and Land Transport Authority announced that they are reviewing measures to curb speeding, one of the top violations for drivers of heavy vehicles. While the authorities have a comprehensive traffic regulation and enforcement system, the onus is on heavy-vehicle companies and their drivers to champion a culture of safety to curb dangerous driving.

Beyond the mandatory law requirement of fitting heavy vehicles with a speed limiter or appealing to the authorities to increase the quantum of fines for errant drivers, look at other factors: Their company culture or how drivers are paid could also be causing them to be reckless on the roads.

SETTING THE CULTURE

There seems to be a myth that as long as companies source and hire quality heavy-vehicle drivers, there would be an automatic improvement in road safety.

This could also be unrealistic as many fleet owners lament that there are not enough qualified, experienced or interested drivers in Singapore to fill vacancies.

But fleet owners should look at their retention strategy instead, because a good retention strategy — founded on a combination of strong relationships and appropriate compensation systems — will lead to a good recruitment strategy.

When an employee feels that his superiors are interested in him as a person rather than just a digit, it creates a sense of belonging, increases his loyalty and secures his commitment.

Companies should also take a wider view beyond pay and include other non-tangible rewards in a holistic “Total Reward for Work” philosophy, such as recognition, employment security, learning opportunities and career progression.

Other factors are important, too, including the work environment and a sense of belonging.

While these are important in any industry, they are especially so in this instance as heavy-vehicle drivers do not enjoy the benefits of close supervision or frequent contact with their supervisors.

To bridge that gap, leaders must make an effort to interact with frontline workers frequently. A relationship-building environment can be as easy as remembering colleagues’ names, or celebrating small victories such as a safe day at work. Leaders should hold meetings regularly to review accidents and explain how to prevent a recurrence.

For instance, Keppel Logistics engages its truck drivers through weekly meetings, listening to their challenges and brainstorming for solutions together.

A change of culture may seem awkward at first but once the routine is set at the top, it will naturally cascade downwards and become the norm.

REVAMPING THE INCENTIVE STRUCTURE

It is a known fact that the way employees behave is largely driven by their wages. Besides internalising the right culture and mindset among drivers, there is also an urgent need to revamp the traditional incentive structure, where drivers are paid on a per-trip basis. Three alternative pay models for consideration are:

Pay-by-Distance Completed: Compensate drivers by total useful distance travelled, regardless of the number of trips they have made. Distances between two points can be entered into the company’s database planning system and a monitoring system can be set up relatively easily. This will ensure that any distance recorded is consistent and accurate.

Pay-by-Teams: Reward a team of drivers instead of individuals to reduce the competitive nature of the drivers, and every driver would then seek to contribute to the team’s overall distance covered rather than just for himself.

Pay-for-Conformance: Reward drivers who drive below the speed limit. Fleet owners can use in-vehicle technology to record the speed patterns of the drivers.

COLLABORATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING

Achieving a culture of good road sense in Singapore goes beyond theoretical knowledge and policing efforts. How successful Singapore is in achieving an improved road culture also depends on authentic collaborations and partnerships between the private and public sectors.

Companies can take reference from construction and infrastructure company Samwoh, which installed blind-spot stickers on its tipper trucks’ blind spots, in a bid to warn other motorists to take extra care around these giants to prevent accidents.

This initiative was the result of a partnership between Samwoh and the Traffic Police’s community policing unit to tackle the common issue of accidents involving heavy vehicles, and as a way to educate others about these “danger zones” of a truck.

Ultimately, tackling road accidents and road safety would be more effective and sustainable when a collaborative approach is adopted between public agencies and private companies, in this instance, the owners of heavy vehicles.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Daniel Chew, a corporate consultant and an Associate Lecturer at the Singapore Logistics Association and SIM University, is author of the book, Land Transport: A Practitioner’s Definitive Guide.