It is a sophisticated logistical operation involving plenty of risks as drivers confront the inevitable challenges of their role, all the while wrestling with any associated personal or health issues.
Group Manager Health, Safety, Environmental and Quality Adrian Ditcher says Coates Hire is conscious of encouraging a safer and healthier lifestyle for drivers – on and off the job.
“So it’s no longer just about their driving hours: it’s about what they physically do when they are not driving as well,” he says.
To that end Coates Hire has introduced a range of wellbeing initiatives, including nutrition and exercise plans and an 1800 number for discussing health problems. It also promotes educational programs for loading and unloading trucks, one of the biggest areas of injury risk for employees and contractors at Coates Hire, which has the largest roll-on, roll-off fleet in Australia.
Ditcher says fatigue management for drivers will be a big issue to confront in coming years as the relationship between work and home life is better understood. For example, the consequences can be very serious if drivers are under stress because of personal problems or if they are fatigued from an unhealthy lifestyle or factors such as having to stay up late at night to look after sick family members.
“It’s quite a complex issue, but there are lots of things we are doing to help,” Ditcher says.
FOCUS ON WELLBEING
Coates Hire is now into the third year of a health and wellbeing program that targets employees’ health outside the workplace. Part of the approach involves seminars across the country or through DVD presentations on issues such as better nutrition, conditions including obesity, diabetes and sleep apnoea, and diseases such as bowel cancer.
A key activity is the 10,000 Steps Challenge, where Coates Hire teams participate in a program that promotes walking and increases awareness of physical activity levels.
“We do a lot of those health promotions,” says Adrian Ditcher, Group Manager - Health, Safety, Environment and Quality at Coates Hire.
He says the company is constantly reviewing injury types and incident trends. There is a particular emphasis on ‘body-stressing’ injuries typically associated with manual handling duties. Practical measures help, such as an action limit whereby staff must seek assistance if they are lifting items in excess of 20kg. There is also an in-house manual handling course.
“There’s an upfront ownership of the commitment to driving down the incidence of those types of injuries within the business,” Ditcher says.
Internal data indicates such measures are having an impact. In the company’s 2012 staff engagement survey, 88 per cent of staff either strongly agreed or agreed that safety was important at Coates Hire – a figure that compares well with the best companies globally.
Significantly, from 2008 ̶ 09 to 2012 ̶ 13, Coates Hire reported a 66 per cent cut in its lost-time injury frequency rate and a 36 per cent drop in total recordable injuries.
“We know our systems are working and our injuries are coming down,” Ditcher says.
A STRONG MORAL CODE
Although there is a growing legal requirement for companies to address workplace health and safety issues, Ditcher says moral imperatives drive the management team at Coates Hire.
“It’s not just about legislative responsibilities but our moral responsibilities to our contractors, drivers and staff,” he says. “We actively reinvigorate our safety programs and we are always looking for new activities.”
At the same time, Ditcher says it is important for staff and contractors to look after their own health and safety.
“People also have a duty of care to themselves for them to be in the best physical shape they can be. We need to keep reinforcing that what they are doing can be dangerous and they can help us along that journey – and we want to help them too.”
Another step towards a stronger culture of wellbeing at Coates Hire in the past 12 months has been establishment of a national work, health and safety committee, with representatives from the shop floor across the country who meet quarterly with management. The committee consults over safety programs and reviews practices where necessary.
Ditcher says it is a significant move as part of an ongoing change of mindset inside the company.
“We have the systems and the engineering controls in place,” he says. “Now it’s a matter of getting employees to just accept that safety is the way we do things around here.”
The measures match the group motto championed by Chief Executive Officer, Leigh Ainsworth: “At Coates Hire nothing is so important that it can’t be done safely.”