‘Our goal is to prevent loss of lives arising from truck drivers’ road behaviour’
Bruno Hounkpati is the Director of Logistics at Lafarge Africa Plc. In this interview with FEMI ADEKOYA, he talks about how the cement manufacturer’s Driving Institute initiative seeks to change truck drivers’ behaviour and attitude on the road and promote safe practices through adequate training. To him, the safest way is the best way. Excerpts.
Can you give an insight into the objectives of the Driving Institute’s initiative?
The project actually started in first quarter this year and it is known as the school of the future. It is a product of research conducted to analyse the cause of truck accidents in the country. What we came up with was that driver’s behaviour was a key piece in all the accidents. We decided that we needed to do something that is completely different, as we cannot be doing the same thing over and get a different result. So we prepared a comprehensive roadmap, which started with an assessment of what we was, in terms of systems and processes as an organisation, and also assessed the transporters we are using and the drivers on how to tackle the challenge of drivers’ behaviour, and what do we do next in terms of monitoring and putting things in place.
This was how the driving school came to life and we started as a school of the future. Because we believe we need a proper school different from what we have in Nigeria today. The curriculum being used has nothing different from what is seen when you go to the U.K or U.S. Also, the way we get the drivers to the system is also affected. We want to start from a very good base where we do a good screening and put them in an environment where the content is solid and delivered by highly experienced and excellent instructors. So that is the idea of the school. Now, we are starting with the East. The school is currently located in Calabar and the next phase is in the West which would be based in Lagos and the third one would be based in the North as well.
Considering the fact that nature and nurture influence attitudes, how do you hope to address drivers’ behaviours or actions that are often displayed as a result of reaction from several environmental factors like the state of the roads and actions of other road users?
A driver can make a very big difference. We can talk about the roads and other road users, but the message we are passing on to drivers is that you can make a big difference no matter how the other road users behave. That is the central message of the driving school. You can make a difference, how do you make a difference? By driving according to the road conditions; for example, by not being aggressive when you are driving. Aggressive drivers often drive recklessly, so you anticipate the action of such drivers in your response already. You know that you have right of way to anticipate what he is going to do next.
So if each driver on the road can have this in the mind, we will make Nigerian roads safer. It is not only that we are addressing this in isolation but it is a process, we believe we are going to train 2000 drivers in the next two years and we would work with other institutions as well to replicate the same thing across the country, which will have the same impact. If you look at the number of the vehicle population in Nigeria, about 11 million vehicles, that is a lot of drivers you are talking about. So if we go step-by-step, we can train 2000 in three years partnering with other institutions and also replicating these schools, you can imagine the kind of impact it is going to have on the environment. This will need all the institutions, policy makers, the states, NGOs including drivers’ union and transporters’ union to get all these things done.
In terms of accountability to the institution and to the society, are there measures to manage concerns about meeting deadlines for deliverables and being accountable for failing to follow regulations and rules?
For us, the safest way is the best way. Nothing should be so important to any customer such that the driver cannot take a stand and do the job safely. Safety is embedded in our rules already. So when a driver is going to deliver to a location, we already factor into account that he cannot go beyond 35 or an average of 40 kilometres per hour. Based on such safety guidelines, we give the expected delivery date to the customer so that they don’t get frustrated. We would never ask a driver to go beyond regulated speed on a road just to meet a deadline. They are empowered to take a stand in their operations. We don’t gain anything by doing the wrong thing faster, and that is the message we pass on to drivers.
How many of the stakeholders do you have in this scheme? Are you also looking at partnering with Lagos State considering it has a similar programme?
We would definitely partner with the state and other government agencies. Already, we are working with the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). They are part of the groups that we formed to run the school but beyond that, what we are bringing into the school will make the project the school of the future as we are doing something completely different.
Even if you look at the school we have in the country today, I am not sure they follow the same process we are going to follow in this school, which is about having the four big steps approach. This means step zero, which is the screening process that makes sure you select the right people. The first one is that you take them through the training, which takes four months, before moving to the second step, which involves putting them on a simulator, to test in real time, all the situations they are likely to face in the course of their duty, which you cannot do without really having the type of equipment. We have state-of-the-art equipment that we bought for the purpose. Then you have the third, which involves taking them on the road to apply what they have learnt and practiced on the simulator through proper demonstration on the road. When that is finished, coaches are attached to these drivers. This is the reason it is called the school of the future. We believe that is best way of addressing the driver behaviour issue that we are facing in this country and we would continue the partnership with not only the states, NGO but with other industries.
In cases where some logistics services are outsourced, how do you ensure the rules are not flouted?
We expect drivers to behave the same way whether we are watching them or not. Today what we are doing is, if you look at all the vehicles that they are driving, we monitor whatever they are doing on the road. That itself is making them to comply to some of our rules. What we want to achieve at the end of the day is that, even in the absence of monitoring, we expect the driver to still behave the same way by adjusting his speed to the road condition and by driving the right way.
How do you select the drivers for this training?
From the screening process, we appraise their applications, their basic literacy level, and also confirm that they have a valid driver’s licence. They must have been driving for the past five years or more before you enrol them in system. They have to go through some medicals where doctors test whether the driver is fit to drive. It is more than what we do when we go for valid driver’s licence. It is a deep assessment. Then he goes through what we call a general assessment with an instructor, the instructor asks the drivers questions about their knowledge of the vehicle, about accidents, about the roads among others. It is only after all these five steps have been checked that you get the instructor’s approval.
Are you considering outsourcing the logistics operations and how sustainable is this project for Lafarge’s operations?
Safety is a value for Lafarge as a whole. Even when we decide to outsource, safety is already embedded in our operations. For us, the safest way is the best way. If we cannot do it safely, at that point, we stop. If we cannot move cement safely to customers then we would stop moving to the customers until we find a safe and sustainable solution for it. I can assure you that our rules will not change whether we decide to outsource or not. The plan in the three years is to have these 2000 drivers trained across Nigeria in the two regions. But this is our plan. This number would increase with partnerships. There is an ongoing discussion with the state, industry players, other institutions, and NGOs that can scale up fast and reach so many people. Whether we do it directly or we outsource, there will be no difference. We would stick by our value because it is a value that is imbedded in our ways of doing things. We don’t need to kill people to sell cement.
Who pays for the service?
Can you value human beings life? So we are not looking at the cost. For us it is not about who has to pay. We don’t expect any return on this. That is not what we want to achieve, we value human lives more than the cement, which is the most important thing. If you look at the direct cost that we put in this, it boils down to the impact we are making; what lives are we saving; how many people are we touching by this initiative. That is what we are interested in. We are investing and we would continue to invest in this. We are investing in drivers. We pay and we would continue to pay because we believe it is the right thing to do we would continue to do that as an organisation.
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