Damage limitation: how recyclers can reduce incident risks

Delivery and collection is vital but waste and recycling companies can be open to damaging claims should an incident occur off-site. Philip Bladon offers some useful advice for the sector

Managing the activities waste and recycling collectors carry out at third party premises is an ever increasing challenge for the haulage industry. When things go wrong, personal injury or damage claims can result and can prove difficult to defend.

However, businesses can reduce the risk of incidents occurring by following some simple steps.

First of all, it’s important to prioritise risk management. Identify the business threats and then focus resources on mitigating the risks that are likely to cost the most, for example, accidents, lost time, personal injury claims and third party damage costs.

Adverse behavioural indicators such as customer complaints, delivery window failures, excessive fuel consumption and brake and tyre wear are all important signposts to prompt an analysis.

Second, assess the risks. For all main tasks, write a risk assessment which takes into account all elements of the work carried out, for example, driving, tail lifts, tipping, etc. Consider all working practices and any equipment that needs to be used in addition to the environment in which the work is carried out.

Do not underestimate the importance of detail in this process and ensure that appropriate training in assessing is provided, which includes guidance on what to do when safety defects are found.

Third, communicate risks to those affected. The simplest way to do this is during task-specific inductions or route familiarisation training. It is important to note, however, that the nature of risks can change so a system needs to be in place to enable updates.

These can be, for example, the use of a call centre for drivers to phone in and report any issues, driver pre and post-shift debriefs, SMS texts, email, paper delivery advice notes and electronic messaging to vehicle-based PDA-type devices.

It is also advisable to retain proof that risk information has been shared with employees.

Fourth, train people to do the job safely because inadequate training is often alleged in claims. It is prudent to take a systematic approach to training. Businesses should identify the tasks for which training is needed; create written Safe Systems of Work (SSoW) on how tasks will be undertaken safely; and identify who requires the training, deliver it, then provide refresher training periodically.

They should also record exactly what the training comprised of; be able to prove the individual’s competence to do that task; record this proof so it can be easily retrieved; and retain that proof for at least five years after the employee has left the company.

On-vehicle cameras and similar technology can help with this whole process.

Fifth, check safe working practices are followed. Systematically check that employees are following rules and keep a record of how this verification has been executed. Audits or inspections are a good idea particularly for higher-risk tasks (e.g. work at height) and higher risk drivers (e.g. those with previous road traffic accidents or who regularly miss deadlines, misuse their vehicle or receive customer complaints against them).

Vehicle telematics can be very effective for identifying employees who require more frequent checks.

Sixth, investigate all incidents thoroughly. Claim defensibility will often hinge on the quality of accident documentation, so ensure incidents are reported to the business immediately. Failure to do so should be a disciplinary issue.

Investigate every incident. Capture relevant factual information about the incident and determine the cause; avoid speculation or opinion. Failure to do so will invite allegations which cannot be disproven at a later date. It is essential that those carrying out this investigative work are properly trained.

Consider all information sources, for example, witness statements, photos, digital/video recording, in-vehicle or location CCTV footage, tachograph and telematics data.

Where potential witnesses state that they did not see anything, ensure that this is recorded as a statement as well.

Ensure that a senior level manager checks and signs-off any investigation recommendations and remember to liaise with the insurance department if a claim is likely to follow.

If the incident investigation highlights that a change in practice or process is warranted, then make this change promptly and properly. If a change is not necessary, do not make one for the sake of it as this can compromise your defence.

Finally, be objective on claims defensibility. Claims may be an emotive issue for management but they are dealt with factually by the courts. Although claims may be costly, defending the wrong ones will always cost a business more.

Look at the facts objectively and imagine how a judge would view them. Do not allow personal feelings about the claimant to cloud your views. Be prepared to concede if the company is at fault, to ensure the claims you cannot win in court are settled quickly and much more cheaply.

Learn from the experience and resolve any defensibility weaknesses highlighted by the claim. Many organisations are particularly poor at this. Closing that loop should lead to fewer incidents and, if done properly, will improve claims defensibility.

Smarter companies make the correct decision on liability and do that in a timely manner. They settle the right claims quickly and select the ones to defend objectively.

The challenge of managing remote workers should not be underestimated. Claims defensibility isn’t just about how many claims are successfully defended. It is about managing risk downward so that there are fewer, less severe incidents and ultimately fewer lower value claims.

When claims do arise their overall cost can be reduced by an effective investigation process which enables timely and appropriate decisions on liability. Following these seven points will ensure that a business has a more positive claims profile. This will in turn make them more attractive to insurance companies who will be keen to offer competitive premiums.

Philip Bladon is senior risk manager at QBE European Operations

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