It is an unavoidable fact of field service delivery that our engineers and technicians invariably spend as much time behind the wheel of their vehicle as they do with our customers. Whilst we are all of course trying to reduce ‘screen-time’ as much for productivity reasons as anything else, we mustn’t overlook the fact that vehicle maintenance and driver safety play a massive role in ensuring our field workforce are safe. In the second feature of a four-part series reflecting on a deep dive discussion into health and safety at the most recent FSN Think Tank Mark Glover looks back on the discussions that the group held on driver safety…
It’s generally agreed that workplace driving – irrelevant of vertical sector – is one of the biggest risks for service engineers. Again, the very nature of a lone worker means travelling to a job is a fundamental part of the process. With the number of cars on the road combined with driving hazards more generally there exists an increasing risk of driving accidents.
Add workplace pressure to the mix and the risks increase further. Sensible driving policies are one way of dealing with this, however a middle ground must exist that where policies must encourage productivity and efficiency while being practical, realistic and enforceable.
Service engineers come across a number of hazards in their day-to-day including working at height and confined spaces although those in attendance agreed that driving – irrelevant of vertical sector – was one of the biggest risks. Again, the very nature of a field service engineer, or the very nature of a lone worker means travelling to a job is a fundamental part of the service process.
Indeed, it was a common theme across all members of the group that driving safety was of paramount concern. “We’ve targeted driving as probably the biggest risk area,” commented Brent Holmes, Field Service Portfolio Director, Ericsson explained:
It is also a high-risk part of that process, perhaps more so than working at height or slips, trips and falls - which the group agreed certainly shouldn’t be overlooked - however, a key distinguisher here is that driving links directly into a service engineer’s productivity, something which can affect safety.
"The customer is unhappy as the asset needs to get back-up online as soon as possible. So, there is customer pressure, management pressure and also business pressure..."
Mark Wilding, Director of Global Aftermarket Operations, Hexagon Marketing Intelligence explains: “As management we need to get the tasks done and the schedule completed. With driving between jobs and driving home at the end of the day and with driving hazards generally and the number of cars on the road there is obviously an increasing risk.”
He pondered the use of company driving policies and practicalities, where engineers would have to stay in a hotel after working twelve hours on the road, for example. “So, if you’re 20 miles from home and you’ve done your twelve hours, you’re supposed to check in. They [engineers] will leave at a silly time just so they can be in their own beds at night. And this is a risk that is always there. “Equally there is pressure if they’ve only got three days to complete a task. The customer is unhappy as the asset needs to get back-up online as soon as possible. So, there is customer pressure, management pressure and also business pressure, therefore the productivity that you’re trying to improve means the driving time in the car is almost trivialised.
“That for me is a concern because you can put in some hard-hitting policies which will have a massive impact on productivity and efficiency and expense and it’s about finding the happy balance, which is practical, realistic and enforceable.” Jan van Veen said these pressures and targets can be detrimental to workforce, “It then leads to stress and pressure which is not in favour of safety and probably not in favour of customer quality also,” he explains.
“This is often the issue when you start incentivising or putting in targets. It then leads to stress and pressure which is not in favour of safety and probably not in favour of customer quality. “So, if you are really are serious as top management around safety, you should start working on relieving pressure on people by putting in place better tools, mechanisms, processes and structures so they can be performed without sacrificing safety,” he said.