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Private Sector

Underestimated production factor

by Ute Papkalla

In depth

Trucks waiting at Zambia’s border.

Trucks waiting at Zambia’s border.

When haulage companies put drivers on the road, they need to consider their health. A pilot project for a cross-border quality certification programme in the transport sector of southern Africa will set standards. Governments will create customs incentives, and it is up to private-sector companies to adhere to the rules. By Ute Papkalla

Transport is a dangerous sector in which to work: an EU analysis of a truck driver’s working environment shows that long-distance drivers in Europe face high health risks – from vibration, noise, heavy and dangerous loads, long periods of sitting, work stress and exhaustion. But the strain is even greater in sub-Saharan Africa, where many roads are in an appalling condition and accidents occur frequently.  

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Africans own only two percent of the world’s automobiles, but they account for 20 % of all fatal accidents. Commercial drivers, moreover, are at risk from regional diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. Being away from the family for months on end also exacts a high social toll. HIV infection rates are particularly high among long-distance truck drivers and along certain routes. So, for commercial reasons alone, the transport sector in southern Africa needs to control such risks.

A self-regulation initiative in Southern Africa currently shows one way in which quality management, social responsibility and sustainable business practice can be successfully combined. Based on South African good practice, the pilot project will be launched and managed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is acting not only on its won account, but also on behalf of the regional ecnomic comminities in East and Central Africa. It  will focus on a section of the North-South Corridor which runs from the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa. In cooperation with the private sector, several governments are trying to find effective incentives to improve transport operations, making social concerns and health care matter-of-course issues in the sector. The pilot project will be rolled out across Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The idea is to give hauliers and manufacturers of various commodities that are transported across southern African borders certificates if they prove in an audit process

  •  that their trucks are regularly maintained and not overloaded,
  •  that they pay attention to driver health, and
  •  that they run and document their operations in line with a set of accepted standards.

It is left to the actors involved to negotiate the details of exactly which requirements should be met in which way.  

The health-care aspects include HIV/AIDS prevention, vaccination, alcohol and drug awareness programmes, healthy lifestyle tips and safety training. Employers should grant their drivers regular – and preferably paid – doctors’ visits. The aim is to fight diseases at work and protect employees from accident consequences or chronic illness. First-aid programmes and refresher courses are similarly needed, especially in countries where accident figures are high.

Risky waiting times

At the core of the new self-regulation initiative for the SADC area is a drive to reduce the long waiting times at borders. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), it takes a truck 15 to 20 days to reach one end of the North-South Corridor from the other. The actual travelling time is only five days; the remaining time is spent waiting at customs. Border issues are governed by regional agreements (SADC Customs Union SACU and EAC) or bilateral agreements between neighbouring countries. In practice, however, there is much scope for arbitrary decisions.

At border “hot spots”, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, bars and sex workers offer their services, so problems naturally accumulate there. Delays at customs not only add to payroll costs; they may also jeopardise employees’ health, especially by raising the risk of HIV infections.

The innovative quality management initiative aims to help haulage companies speed up deliveries between a number of countries. At present, the compliance certificates are only in use within South Africa. Regionalisation of the accreditation scheme has the potential benefit of ­allowing certified operators to pass through border posts with significantly reduced delays. This will not only reduce transport costs in the region, but also have a positive effect on driver health and fatigue. Lovemore Bingandadi, is a technical advisor to the SADC Secretariat for regional transport corridors. He hopes that the system will stimulate trade and promote regional integration. “Our governments traditionally regulate transport by issuing national directives and implementing controls,” he says. But it is companies themselves that know best what is good for their business and what will keep drivers healthy.

If it all goes well, all sides will benefit: governments get customs revenues, and hauliers save costs through more efficient use of vehicles. Investing in employee health obviously also benefits drivers’ families and the communities along their routes. And better trucks not only cut fuel costs, they also cause fewer accidents and emit less par­ticles and carbon.  

Fewer breakdowns, less fuel

Related measures are already being implemented in South Africa under the abbreviation RTMS (Road Transport Management System). “Accredited companies reduce their accident figures and have better-motivated drivers with lower absentee rates, fewer breakdowns and lower fuel costs due to regular maintenance and fuel economy training for drivers,” says Paul Nordengen of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). He is one of the RTMS supervisors at the national level. The health guidelines for RTMS in South African RTMS resulted from a number of round-table meetings with various actors. In the SADC context, negotiations involved the SADC’s HIV and AIDS Unit and the Directorate of Infrastructure and Services, transport associations and major companies in Eastern and Southern Africa as well as national institutions from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. GIZ contributed expertise.

The result is guidelines that take equal account of accident prevention, HIV/AIDS prevention, acceptable driving hours and healthy lifestyles. Comprehensive company health care is taken very seriously.  

The RTMS particularly helps companies listed on the stock exchange in South Africa because it enables them to score points in sustainability reports. The government in Pretoria requires corporations to publish such reports and show compliance with the principles of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The GRI attempts to gain acceptance for uniform sustainability reporting rules in a participative process. The aim is to improve corporate governance, not only for shareholders but also for employees, the environment and society.

The self-regulation and quality initiative for cross-border goods traffic among SADC members is also arousing curiosity in neighbouring countries. Barney Curtis, executive officer of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations ­(FESARTA), reports keen interest from both companies and governments in East Africa: “The East ­African Community (EAC) is in the process of harmo­nising vehicle overload controls and load limits across its ­region.” Many partners involved, he adds, see self-­regulation models such as the one eyed by the SADC as a very useful approach.  

When it comes to health, however, company managements often lack foresight. According to Curtis, many bosses’ first priority is to ensure that their vehicle fleet is in good condition and efficiently used. Employee health tends to be only a secondary consideration. “Managing directors traditionally try to achieve higher revenues only by raising productivity and/or lowering costs. Drivers’ health is not a factor they currently consider, although doing so would indeed pay dividends.” Major players and companies with better-qualified personnel tend to understand the advantages better than smaller businesses.

The initiative in the SADC area comes at the right time. A new ISO standard (ISO 39001) for road transport safety was recently launched. Companies that are certified in Southern Africa will find it easier to secure ISO-39001 certification.