The importance of accreditation in road transport
If you operate large vehicles for commercial gain, then the chances are you'll be required to hold a licence. The terms of the licence depend on where you are in the world, but I'm willing to bet that it requires minimum standards of vehicle maintenance, maximum working time for drivers and minimum standards for recording activity including things like rest periods.
The fundamentals are usually rooted in legal compliance, and go some way to helping improve road safety standards for all road users.
But legal compliance merely sets a minimum requirement. By it's very nature, a licence fails to encourage vehicle operators to improve their business and simply creates a common baseline.
This is why standards and accreditation in road transport has become more important in recent years; operators seek to stand out from their competitors and increasingly recognise the monetary value of implementing a standard or accreditation.
However, many standards are based on a framework that can be generic and difficult for people to relate to. They often require evidence that a system's in place but rarely do they ask for evidence that it's effective or measurable or benchmarked in a way that can prove that it makes a difference; that the operator is working to a higher standard.
This is part of the reason why FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) has been such a success in the UK. Starting way back in 2007, the principle at the time was simple; to work with LGV operators to reduce the number of incidents involving collisions with cyclists in London, through practical intervention. Since then it's moved on to incorporate aspects of environmental and quality standards that aim to reduce emissions, improve air quality and maintain a downward trend in RTA's.
But the common theme from those early days through to now is that FORS encourages the industry to inform and develop the requirements needed for an effective solution to safety, emissions and quality which, crucially, could work for their business.
This is why effective governance and enthusiasm is so important when creating and maintaining any such standard. So often an industry or standards body will create something in isolation from those who need to implement it. And you can't expect it to succeed if you don't consult. Operators don't like being dictated to; no one does!
FORS continues to be an evolving, practical standard that fleet operators tune into. It's fair to say that its success has been largely down to the imposition of contract requirements and that smaller suppliers need the accreditation to win business. However, it's quite telling that even when the relevant contract ends the majority of those accredited companies choose to continue their FORS accreditation. It's relatable, measurable and evolves with industry.
I'm particularly proud of my contribution to the development of FORS. Way back in the days when I had hair I helped to develop an early member benefit; the PCN toolkit. I then worked for FTA to deliver the bronze audit contract for a number of years, overseeing the standards of around 45 auditors and creating 2 senior auditor roles, and then latterly working for CILT to deliver FORS Governance. Part of that process led me to write Version 4 of the FORS Standard, and contribute to the current requirement (V5).
On reflection I enjoyed the interaction with governance representatives most of all, because it continued the fundamental principle of listening to people who operate vehicles and developing standards that can be achievable and that they helped to create.
As we crawl towards the end of this miserable year I look forward to continuing my relationship with FORS into 2021, with a focus now on helping operators to prepare, achieve and maintain their accreditation at bronze, silver or gold.
And one last thing; I was always disappointed with the fact that those who create and / or operate these standards / accreditations find it difficult to work with others. Time and again commercial sensitivities and egos got in the way of harmonisation for the benefit of the user, and while I live in perpetual hope that things might change I doubt it! Perhaps they should take a leaf from the book of those who worked together to create FORS in the first place...