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Your firm experiences a road tanker crash. Now what?

By 22nd December 2015 Blog, Resilience No Comments
An SCL Darwen road tanker crashes in Bolton - what to do when something like this happens. More at www.remsol.co.uk

Resilient businesses are able to rebound from setbacks much more rapidly than their rivals, and that has a lot to do with the emphasis they place on thinking ahead and planning for the things that do occasionally go wrong. Like this road tanker crash in Bolton that took place earlier today. How do you prepare for an event like this, and how do you respond if it happens? 

We’ve posted before about the importance of creating and maintaining some sort of risk register, which is an invaluable first step.

If you run a fleet of large goods vehicles like the road tanker involved in this incident, then your transport and distribution activities should definitely feature in your risk register.

Understanding the risks

Once you’ve identified the transport and distribution activities you perform, you need to then risk assess each one. In doing so, think about all the things that could go wrong, the likelihood of failure occurring and the severity of the consequences if it does, and then consider all the things you can do to reduce the chances of an incident as well as the actions you could take if you have one.

Where the transport of any goods by HGV is concerned, there are all sorts of risks that you might face. If the goods you carry are liquid, and if they are dangerous to people and the environment during carriage, then those risks will multiply.

Here are just a few examples of things that could cause a road tanker crash or related incident:

– Tyre blow-out on the motorway

Driver suffers a medical emergency at the wheel

– Another vehicle collides with your road tanker

– A pedestrian steps in front of the vehicle

– Your driver falls asleep at the wheel

– The vehicle skids on an untreated icy road

– The brakes fail

– Driver falls whilst gaining access to the roof hatches

– A valve fails and leads to a spill

As you can see, there’s a lot that could go wrong. But it’s better to appreciate and acknowledge the risks, rather than ignore them.

Each of these should be added to your risk register, and then separately risk assessed – of course, it’s entirely possible that there will be some interaction between them, what you might call the “domino effect”, so you should keep that in mind.

Let’s work through a quick assessment of the risks associated with a driver that suffers a medical emergency at the wheel and that could cause a road tanker crash.

Firstly, is it likely? Well, that all depends. Does s/he have a history of medical problems, like heart disease? If so, the likelihood is clearly going to be higher than for a member of staff with a clean bill of health. Then think about the consequences if a driver is taken ill on the job – if it happens whilst they’re having one of their legal breaks, and are sat in the vehicle cab with the brakes applied and the engine switched off, then it’s possible that only your driver is at risk of harm from the illness itself; but if they’re driving in a heavily built up area, where there are many other road users and pedestrians, then obviously the chances are that other people and property will be involved and the consequences will therefore be more severe. What can you do to minimise the risk? Well, you could start by ensuring that all staff undergo some sort of health screening at the start of their employment and that they then have regular (at least annual) medical check-ups to ensure that they are fit to drive – the events of the fatal Glasgow bin lorry crash in 2014 should serve as a cautionary tale on fitness to drive; and you could plan journeys so as to avoid the most built up, high risk areas wherever possible (rather than simply relying on satellite navigation systems that are programmed to get you to your destination by either the fastest or shortest route, but not necessarily the safest). Once you’ve got to grips with the risks your transport and distribution operations pose, you can start to plan for mishaps, which includes thinking about how you’ll respond.

Responding to a road tanker crash

This previous post and this one go into a lot more detail, so we suggest you read these first!

However, if you have no crisis plan of any kind already in place for this sort of eventuality, here are our top 3 tips:

1. Inform a lawyer and instruct them to launch an internal investigation

This is an important first step. There are lots of reasons for it, which we won’t go into here, but trust us when we say it’s something you could later come to rely on in court…

2. Help the people involved

Mobilise someone to the scene to assess the extent of the incident, remembering not to endanger themselves in the process.  Work with the emergency services to provide whatever assistance you can to those involved, whether your own people or others involved in or affected by the incident. Keep in mind that, whilst very tempting to behave as though you and your business are responsible, that may not be the case and isn’t something that you can necessarily determine right away at the scene – so don’t accept any liability for insurance purposes, if for no other reason.

3. Keep everyone informed

As you establish more facts, be prepared to share them as honestly and transparently as you can, prominently on your own website and any social media presence you might have. If you don’t actually know anything, or you can’t comment for legal reasons, or because it’s too early to determine what’s happened and you’d rather not speculate, then say that: in an information vacuum, people tend to fill in the blanks for themselves, often reaching entirely the wrong conclusions. Its crucial that you take control of the story as much as you can, but be aware of the need for sensitivity in situations where people have been injured or worse still.  With the advent of camera phones, Facebook and Twitter, events like this are soon picked up by local media, and it’s important that you have a say in the way that the news is covered – that means proactively opening a dialogue with local newspapers and, potentially, broadcast media too, and making sure you keep them updated. Don’t forget, your business reputation is at stake.

The 4R’s

We call this approach the 4R’s:

– Register the risk

– Risk assess

– Reduce the risk

– Respond if the risk is realised

If you adopt this approach in every aspect of your business, you’ll find that it makes you far more resilient, enabling you to navigate the bumps in the road that all businesses face at some time or other, but without distracting your from the pursuit of growth for too long.

Was this article helpful? If so, please share it and add your comments underneath! Remember that only general advice is provided on The Remsol Blog, and that it may be incomplete or not applicable to your particular circumstances. 

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