Taking Grey Fleets out of the Gray Area
RUNNING A GREY FLEET
Grey fleets, for many companies, can be a fantastic model for employee transportation. With all vehicles owned by the drivers, you are able to save significant costs in overhead by not managing the procurement, maintenance and servicing, and defleeting processes associated with company fleets. This kind of fleet model is best suited to companies where the core offering isn’t dependent on driving. Employees are still required to drive around but it is not sufficient to warrant owning an entire fleet to cover this.
For most companies with grey fleets, there are some processes that exist around the checks of vehicles at the commencement of the employee contract. When a job description deems it necessary for an employee to utilize a vehicle to complete their job, the fleet manager will ensure that the driver has a valid licence, the car has a valid registration and that servicing on the vehicle is up to date and completed to a certain standard.
This is where the required checks stop. From that point on wards it is up to each individual organisation to decide what review procedures are necessary.
Grey fleeting is becoming increasingly more popular as the laws and regulations around vehicle safety tighten, ensuring that as many people as possible have a safe car. This gives the company a new level of peace of mind regarding the vehicles their employees are driving. However, without having control and visibility over their fleet, large gaps in health and safety exist.
MISSING THE BIGGER PICTURE
In traditional fleets, managers have a complete view of registrations, servicing, incidents and infringements history, and driver information. Whereas managers of grey fleets get to see a very limited picture of their fleet.
One key aspect of grey fleets is kilometre reimbursement where drivers are financially reimbursed for the petrol used in the trips taken for that day. This process provides the company with information on how far vehicles are traveling on a work basis. This and the vehicle checks on commencement of the employee contract are the only guaranteed information managers get.
Another issue that grey fleets cause is the lack of control over safety standards for the workplace. In Australia, the work vehicle is legally considered to be a part of the workplace and for grey fleets this means that while the vehicle is in use for work purposes, it is considered to be an extension of the workplace. Therefore, there are expectations around health and safety standards for all work vehicles. While this is a relatively straightforward process for company owned vehicles, it can prove increasingly difficult for grey fleets where there is limited control over the vehicles in the fleet. Newer model vehicles have a lot more built-in safety features such as autonomous emergency breaking or lane departure warnings, giving more assurance of the general level of safety than older vehicles where such features don’t come as standard.
Duty of care is becoming an increasingly large discussion point for fleet managers with more emphasis being placed on it by governments. For fleet managers there are two sides to the matter.
1) The duty of care in relation to the vehicles, acquiring good quality vehicles and maintaining them to a high standard, as well as duty of care in relation to the drivers, ensuring they are aware where responsibility lies and also are provided with a safe working environment.
2) The duty of care towards the drivers includes ensuring that they are provided with the skills and knowledge to be safe behind the wheel. This is where it becomes important for driver behaviour to be monitored and maintained.
For company owned fleets, it is more of a straightforward process to track incidents, infringements and patterns. For companies with grey fleets, this can be almost impossible to track. Infringements never come through the fleet manager and damage is only recorded if reported by the driver. Therefore points against driver licences are never tracked and no patterns of at-risk drivers emerge. The ability to identify at-risk and excellent drivers allows for interventions and rewards to be put into place accordingly, enforcing an expected standard of behaviour and providing a platform for conveying the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the duty of care.
ADAPTING COMPANY POLICIES
Managers of grey fleets can find it hard to gain control of their fleet, especially with so much information missing from their overall picture. Putting robust policies, processes and systems in place can ensure that more information is available to them and that safety standards throughout their fleet are increased, therefore decreasing their liability.
Spending time establishing a complete set of policies around your fleets can help to increase visibility and control over them. Some key attributes that policies should cover include:
• Driver’s licences
Even though this may seem reasonably straightforward, it is often overlooked when writing policies. Explicitly state that drivers must hold current, valid driver’s licences, appropriate to the vehicle they are going to be operating (class C, LR, MR etc.).
For company owned fleets, this isn’t something that necessarily needs to be stated in policy. However, for grey fleets, including policy around vehicle registrations can save issues and complications further down the line. Again, this may seem reasonably straightforward but if the driver and company aren't seen to be law-abiding or adhering to strict health and safety regulations then it can result in fines and infractions down the track.
• Vehicle age
As technology improves for vehicles, manufacturers are making more safety features standard such as autonomous emergency breaking or lane departure warnings. These sort of features don’t exist in older vehicles but can be added for a fee. However, most people with older vehicles, won’t bother to add such safety features. It is because of this that risks associated to health and safety arise when your fleet is made up of older vehicles. Including a section in your policies determining an age limit on vehicles or setting a standard of safety features to reach is a way to mitigate any issues arising.
For grey fleets, a common policy will state that proof of current servicing must be provided. This helps the manager to ensure that the vehicle is in as safe a state as possible. However, what a lot of policies don’t cover is the ongoing servicing of the vehicles. Having drivers report their service records on a regular basis from approved service centres gives you the peace of mind you need when it comes to the health and safety of your drivers.
Incidents are a complicated area when it comes to grey fleets with a lot of companies taking a “case by case” approach. However, incidents may occur where you end up paying for the repairs of damage incurred outside of work hours as it is hard to prove otherwise. Outlining in policy the responsibilities and situations where incidents need to be reported and covered so that everyone is clear on where it lies can help to mitigate disagreements and unwanted costs when an incident occurs.
IMPLEMENTING REGIMENTED PROCESSES
The policies set out for your fleets can then dictate what processes you put in place to manage and track the vehicles and driver behaviour. It is important to track both the vehicles and driver behaviour as a means of ensuring the safest work environment possible for your employees and the general public. Some of the recommended processes to be put in place are:
• Vehicle checks
It is important to put a process in place where an assessment of the vehicle is carried out. Ultimately it is up to the fleet manager’s preference as to how frequently checks are completed, but it is important that they are carried out regularly. This could be daily, weekly or every 6 months. This includes evaluating damage, servicing/registration and the overall state of the vehicle. The more frequently this is completed, the more accurate the view the manager will have over the fleet at any given time.
• Incident reporting
Having a regimented process in place for incident reporting can ensure that all damage and incidents are dealt with in a timely manner, reducing any further health and safety implications. It can also be important to not just report on the actual incidents, but the near misses as well. The near misses help to identify problem areas that need to be addressed. For example, a driver failing to check their rear view mirror and nearly backing into a pedestrian isn’t actually an incident, as the driver didn’t make contact, but it is an area that would need to be addressed. If this was reported, then the fleet manager could ensure that all drivers understand the importance of checking all mirrors before reversing the vehicle. Having all incidents reported in a timely manner allows managers to build a “profile” of their drivers, with weaknesses and poor drivers being identified so interventions can be put into place.
• Kilometre reimbursement
This is a process that exists in most companies with grey fleets already. It can help to give a good level of visibility over the fleet. If a manager is able to see on a daily basis the distance and usage of employee vehicles, they are able to better identify those that might need servicing sooner. Rather than kilometre records being submitted weekly or even monthly, having them submitted on a daily basis gives an accurate overview of the fleet.
HOW IMPORTANT IS AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM
Where processes are dictated by policies, effective systems can work to ensure that processes are as effective as possible. A good fleet management system (or systems) can make the fleet manager’s job a lot easier while streamlining processes for the drivers as well.
Having a system that allows drivers to remotely log the results of their vehicle checks can increase the probability of drivers actually completing these checks. If drivers have to manually or physically write down the results of the check and mark it off as completed each time they are required to do it, this can seem like too much work, resulting in poor completion rates.
A similar system for incident reporting can help to minimize the time taken to resolve incidents. A system that allows drivers to log times, dates, descriptions, as well as upload images where necessary can save a considerable amount of time and effort. This way incidents are tagged to the particular vehicle and the driver in the first instance, providing better visibility for fleet managers.
Being able to manually log travel distances can speed up the kilometre reimbursement process as well. Having a system where drivers can, at the end of each day, log the start and finish odometer readings streamlines the processes for both drivers and fleet managers.
Ideally, a system that can incorporate all components and can interact with any pre-existing fleet management systems (important for companies who run both company owned fleets and grey fleets) is what you would source as a fleet manager. This provides you with the visibility you require as well as accurate reporting functions.
GAINING BACK CONTROL
By implementing appropriate policies, regimented processes and integrated systems to your grey fleet, you are ensuring the safety of your drivers, reducing liability on the organisation and gaining greater control over the fleet.
Ensuring driver safety increases the accountability of the drivers. They become aware of where they are responsible for their own safety and where the organisation has control. Most people aren’t against sticking to processes and standards. The issues only arise when they aren’t aware of company expectations. By effectively communicating this to drivers through the policies and processes, as well as fully explaining systems, you are increasing the likelihood of drivers owning them. This contributes towards the overall safety of the drivers and ensures you are meeting sufficient health and safety standards as set out in fleet legislation.
By having your drivers accountable for their actions, you are reducing incident liability on the company. Especially when it comes to vehicle checks and incident reporting, a lack of policies, processes and systems can result in the organisation being liable for a raft of issues.
Driver safety and liability on the organisation are big, important issues, but ultimately everything comes down to the fleet manager having control over the fleet. If there isn’t any control on the vehicles being used and drivers operating the vehicles, there is no way to understand where the issues lie and how to place interventions to mitigate these. Sufficient control comes when the fleet manager has visibility over the entire fleet, something that is easier with company owned fleets and increasingly difficult with grey fleets. By implementing policies, processes and systems around the fleet, you are providing more information for the fleet manager to work from, therefore increasing the overall picture that they have over the fleet. This way, you are able to recognize issues even before they arise, and put interventions in place to ensure that no further issues come from them. By doing this you are ensuring the safety your drivers and the general public as well as reducing the liability associated with being unaware of issues.