Reputation is an increasingly important part of business operations in a world dominated by social media’s rapid and widespread conversations supported by rich media.
That is just one of the reasons responsible supply chain and logistics organisations offer customers safety and reputation management as opposed to simple transport solutions, says Arend du Preez, MD of Crossroads.
“The big multinational oil companies in our industry, the majors, are committed to operating safely in society. They’re also committed to clean, eco-friendly operations. They take the commitment seriously,” he says. “And it’s our job to uphold their commitment to that ethos through our logistics solutions.”
The safety and social responsibility inherent to these operations cannot be the sole preserve of the technology and the infrastructure used to facilitate it. It goes far deeper than paper certificates. It goes well beyond a rating badge on a website.
“It seeps into the organisational culture that stems from the behaviour of our people and theirs,” says du Preez. “That behaviour is the result of a philosophy that begins at the top of the organisation and works its way down to the most active operational levels.”
At the core of this ethos is the assumption that all road users – even pedestrians – have the right to come home safely. “All people should have the right to return safely from the roads and see their families again,” says du Preez. He adds that upholding the exceptional safety standards set by the major oil organisations is, as a result, a key directive.
The recent incident involving a bus transporting children for a prominent school was yet another that drew widespread public attention to road safety. It touched the hearts of many concerned citizens.
“Accidents do, unfortunately, happen. But we want to minimise their frequency as much as possible. And we want to do our bit in creating a place where people can be safe on the roads,” says du Preez.
It can be difficult in any industry that has vehicles on the roads. As with any other part of human life, there are scrupulous and less scrupulous operators. Even private road users’ misunderstandings of how heavy vehicles operate and the factors that affect them lead to severe accidents.
Cutting in front of a vehicle that weighs nearly 40 tons then braking sharply creates unnecessary challenges for drivers and elevates the risk for all road users. By the same token, drivers speeding in heavy vehicles do the same. Law enforcement that turns a blind eye also puts all road users at risk.
These are the unfortunate realities of our road scenarios in South Africa. Yet, by encouraging a philosophy that promotes responsible road use, significant training effort, maintaining the quality of infrastructure and rolling assets, and continued education, du Preez says the commercial industry has a positive impact.
“But it becomes increasingly difficult in an economy that places margins under more pressure with each passing day. At some point margins stretched too tight have to yield. And when they do, what does an operator release from their budget? Safety standards? Asset maintenance? Driver training? Education activities?”
He says that new entrants to the industry sometimes lack the deep-seated understanding that safety goes beyond a social responsibility. It is a business imperative. The resultant reputational loss that stems from an incident involving a heavy vehicle provides spectacular rich media for today’s widespread social media channels.
We may well be dismayed by the loss of life but we are also fascinated, as people, by the visual spectacle. The recent tornado in Gauteng’s West Rand and the widespread devastation caused during the storm in and around Durban in KwaZulu-Natal and the resultant videos and photographs that circulated on social media are a testimony to this.
“It is important to realise that safety is a crucial aspect of operating in our industry,” says du Preez. “But, since operations take us to public roads, we must also encourage all road users to participate in the education necessary to improve safety through understanding.”