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What is the single greatest danger to humanitarian field workers today? Disease? Natural disaster? Terrorist attack?
In fact the answer is something that should be easily avoided – road traffic crashes. According to the WHO,1.2 million people worldwide are killed each year in road crashes - equivalent to 3,000 deaths every day.
This is expected to increase to 1.9 million deaths annually by 2020 unless the right measures are taken. And a disproportionate 91 percent of road fatalities occur in low-income and middle-income countries, even though these countries have just half of the world's vehicles.
For field workers, travelling in a vehicle is usually the most dangerous activity they face, due to driving during night time, poor roads, and public lack of understanding of road safety guidelines.
The current number of field workers killed or injured in road crashes is hard to pin down – because of underreporting and absence of robust data collection methods. What is beyond question however, is that not one of the Millennium Development Goals mentions transport or infrastructure. This is a significant absence – as the achievement of each and every MDG is dependent on reliable access to communities.
So what steps should humanitarian organisations take to mitigate the number of transport-related deaths and serious injuries? And what are the wider benefits of fleet and road safety training?
Fleet Forum is a non-profit interagency association focused on enhancing road safety, green practices, and fleet efficiency. This involves implementing standards-based solutions to improve the safety of humanitarian workers. We use a step-by-step approach to form a road safety management system – through advising an organisation on their transport policies, processes and procedures, and providing fleet training to staff at all levels.
Perhaps surprisingly, we have found that just training the vehicle drivers themselves is the most ineffective method of boosting safety. Of course, we can give practical advice, such as checking a vehicle has adequate tire tread, usable brakes, proper steering abilities, and good general maintenance, which will make the vehicle less likely to cause an accident. And we can offer common sense advice, for example, not driving when tired or under the effects of alcohol and educating on local safety issues.
Instead, our experience has shown that training should start with the management of the aid organisation, to map out the safety, costs and environmental considerations of the organisation, and translate this into specific policies and performance indicators.
As a case in point, Fleet Forum provided training for 1,000 WHO employees in India during 2010, following a spate of serious accidents that had occurred in the preceding three months. By focusing on training for all staff, WHO have achieved their objective of zero serious accidents in India over the past three years.
Examples of best practice in transport safety largely come from the private sector. For business leaders, it’s a simple economic calculation: more vehicles on the road and more operational staff, means greater capacity for attaining revenues but also greater risks. Indeed, the annual costs of road traffic crashes in low income and middle-income countries are estimated to be between US $65–100 billion, more than the total annual amount received in development aid.
Humanitarian organisations do not run on a profit-driven model, but the principal remains the same: aid can be delivered more effectively and safely when resources are not diverted towards managing the consequences of transport incidents, not to speak of the human cost.
Fleet Forum has found that organisations that implemented fleet safety management not only reduced their number of accidents (on average by 45 percent) but also the costs of maintenance and repair by 50 percent as well. This means more resources can be focused on helping people in need.
Fleet management is saving lives of those who deliver aid and those who depend on it. Promoting best practices amongst operational staff is one of our central objectives, which is why this year Fleet Forum has joined up with the organizers of AidEx, a global humanitarian and development aid event taking place in Brussels. AidEx is funding fleet management training for sixteen management-level aid workers operating in Africa and the Middle East to give them hands-on and theoretical training in the areas of fleet efficiency, road safety and green practices.
Overall, road fatalities and accidents can be significantly decreased through prioritising standards-based solutions to fleet management. Above the efficiencies in aid delivery, implementing the right fleet policies, processes and practices helps humanitarian organisations secure its greatest asset - its staff.
Rose van Steijn is a programme manager at Fleet Forum