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FoodCloud, a social enterprise in Ireland, is redistributing surplus food via FoodCloud’s technology and redistribution network to charities and community groups across the UK and Ireland. In October (2019) announced that over 28,000 tonnes of food (67 million meals) has been redistributed. Tina Walsh of ISM Services for Non-Profits speaks to Stephen Somers, Logistics Coordinator of FoodCloud, about how the organisation has managed the risk arising from driving.

Tina: You are coordinating several moving parts during your working day. I can see drivers, vehicles and stock.

Stephen: I oversee movement of all stock from inbound donations to one of our three warehouses in Cork, Dublin and Galway through to deliveries to local charities. We have goods coming in, and goods are going out and as we are dealing with surplus food, you very often don’t have much visibility or notice of what is coming in. This means everything from liaising with suppliers, coordinating drivers, planning routes and vehicle maintenance.

Tina: ISM Services for Non-Profits have developed a free Driving for Work policy pack. The pack is inclusive of a sample policy, risk assessment, training needs assessment and compliance declaration templates. Our aim is to assist registered charities and non-profit organisations to understand, identify, evaluate and manage the risk arising from driving, especially if their employee or volunteer is using a car during their working hours.

Stephen: This is a great initiative, having sought guidance from ISM in developing FoodCloud’s driving for work policy I can attest to the benefits of bringing in expert knowledge for more complicated undertakings and finding the right method of training for your operation. Transport in the charity sector can be complex and managing risk is essential when dealing with volunteers and community employment scheme workers due to the number of people who may be driving the same vehicle in a particular week. Cost factors also come into play here with finding time to develop and implement a policy, training for staff and volunteers and maintaining a vehicle or fleet.

Tina: What was your understanding of the concept “Driving for Work”?

Stephen: I have been a driver myself for many years so I was aware of Driving for Work, especially keeping within legislation regarding vehicle maintenance and safe driving practices. In FoodCloud we are very good regarding policies. As a charity, we want to constantly improve our processes and ensure the safety of everyone involved in the FoodCloud team. We strive for the best practice in everything. As we were getting busier and busier it became clear to us that we need to have something robust in place. That is why we started implementing a Driving for Work policy.

Tina: By getting busier, risks increase. Sounds like you had the prevention approach rather than firefighting. Did you approach the management or was this coming from the management down to you?

Stephen: Having come into my current role from being a driver, I had a good understanding of the vulnerable areas and where processes needed to evolve to suit our growing needs. I suggested and implemented several changes, management were always onboard with improving processes, I worked closely with our HR manager Melanie Allanson in developing the new policy and implementing it across the team. We were conscious of having a policy and a practice. Having a policy is an on-going process, it requires tweaking as the organisation grows or changes.

Tina: Having a policy is one thing, but to have a written document working in practice is another.

Stephen: Due to the nature of our business there were areas which I felt were not covered by the generic policy templates, To help fill the gaps I talked to a lot of people; I was seeking advice from people who have similar business models or experience. RSA has good free resources and guidelines, but not all the policies are the same. We work with food. Food is perishable and, in our case, it is also short lived. So, we work in urgency. I wanted to reach out to those people who had been trained and who had been through a verification process.

Tina: Did you identify gaps within your policy?

Stephen: No, not huge gaps, Mainly we were highlighting areas in which we may be able to reduce risk by altering our practices or introducing training. Getting in touch with Training Manager Paul Kenny in ISM was a great help to us. Paul visited our premises, we had a walk around in our warehouse and talked about our tasks. For us, it was a tidying up exercise. We wanted to polish off the policy by having clear, precise practices in place.

This made it clear that on-road driver training was an important step for us. Vehicle inspections was an area we focused on making the process less cumbersome and and making an easier way to flag problems for drivers on our nightly Food Rescue runs, for example. They fill in an online form with their mobile phones and they can also complete an incident report via mobile if something happens on route. These steps are convenient and as simple as possible, tweaks like this allow us to react quicker as our business is fast paced.

Tina: What are your training needs in relation to Driving for Work?

Stephen: Currently no one drives a van without a driver assessment. We rolled out ISM ProDrive on-road training for all driving staff. It is a driver assessment with tips. The next phase is to roll it out to our volunteers.

Tina: How did you choose ISM ProDrive on-road training over online training?

Stephen: I think the training needs to differ. It depends on who you are training and what their role is. For an office-based job, driving to the banks etc, the online training would be adequate. But for us collecting and delivering all day, we wanted something more practical that is why we went with Prodrive. We plan to roll out virtual training to all our office staff in the future.

Tina: Did you experience any resistance?

Stephen: No I didn’t experience any resistance, Some may have seen it as an inconvenience. But my job is to make sure that there is no breakdown in line of safety. People understand the reason. Drivers know the reality they see accidents happening on the roads regularly.

Tina: There are very few jobs where people don’t drive during their working day. They might be in an office-based job and don’t realise it as “a task”. They drive to a bank to lodge money, to a post office to drop the letters off or to get sandwiches for a meeting. Or it might be charity work, for example, delivering meals on wheels. That function happens in every parish in Ireland.

Stephen: Yes, these are the very people at risk, People who drive for work are 40% more likely to be involved in a collision, that includes driving your own car. Finding the right method of training and ensuring your policy suits your business is important.

Our objective is to collect and deliver surplus food. Driving is a pillar of what we do and how we do it. Implementing the policy and the training has already had a positive impact on our organisation. There are no grey areas the drivers are trained, the policy is robust, and we feel have found a good solution for our organisation and will look to improve and expand on it moving forward.

Tina: Have you seen any other benefits?

Stephen: As part of our effort to improve safety our vans are fitted with telematics. The change in driver behaviour can be recorded. We are striving to foster a culture of safety which is reflected in the driver behaviour statistics. I am also expecting to see reduced fuel costs which will be the long-term benefits of safe and economical driving.

Tina: What would be your advice for other charities?

Stephen: My advice firstly would be get an understanding of who drives in your organisation and what the purpose of the journey is. Go out on the runs with the driver, identify the times and places most likely to pose increased risk to your drivers. Most importantly seek advice. Talk to ISM, Talk to your colleagues and peers. If you work with similar companies who may have brought in Driving for Work they can be a great resource. I am currently completing a Transport Manager CPC course with Stephen Kavanagh which was organised and facilitated by ISM. I would recommend it for anyone who is managing people on the road.

Tina: Is that something that you had personally or professional interest in and did FoodCloud support you?

Stephen: Yes, both. I saw it as the next step in improving our transport network in FoodCloud and also as an opening to develop my skills and understanding of logistics planning and managing risk. FoodCloud supported me throughout the process.