Is road safety a relevant CSR issue?

Photo: José Cuervo Elorza @Flickr

The Commission on Road Safety, a Non-Standing Committee of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, has approved unanimously a motion urging the Government to include road safety as part of  Corporate Social Responsibility, in an effort to involve companies in the prevention of work-related traffic accidents. The initiative calls for the Executive to make appropriate amendments in the Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks to include the assessment and the prevention of traffic accidents that occur as a result of work activity or commuting. According to the Committee’s recommendations, companies would have to report on their progresses on the prevention of work-related accidents and carry out studies and evaluations to identify – and fight – their causes. The Committee also calls for the registration of work-related traffic accidents, a better coordination between the private and public entities involved, and security improvements in work-related travel. Finally, it asks for the creation of a “quality label”, awarded by the competent institutions and agencies, which would support the company’s commitment in preventing accidents among their employees. As an incentive for the employer,  the Committee recommends the creation of an annual prize that would reward best practices in the field of occupational health and the quality of the inclusion of road safety plans in the Corporate Social Responsibility strategy of the companies.

This news has been received with mixed feelings in Spain, both by companies and the CSR community alike. One of the reasons, as stated by Professor Antonio Argandoña in his blog , is that this type of initiatives is a distraction from the “really important” CSR topics and that an “award” won’t change anything. According to other comments, it is the role of the Government to deal with road safety. I don’t agree at all with those points of view. I do believe that road safety is a valid material issue for businesses, a clear area of concern for their internal and external stakeholders and has potentially a huge impact, economic, social and environmental on the companies themselves and the society in general. In Spain, businesses lose thousands of working hours each year due to medical leaves of absence related to road accidents, that also cost thousands of lives. Industry research shows that typically workplace injury costs are met 40% by the employee, 30% by the employer and 30% by the community as a whole. The human cost is high, the financial cost as well. Corporate reputation is also affected by employees driving behaviour. Did it ever happen to you to observe a dangerous driver in a company car, or truck, bearing the logo of their employer? What was your reaction? The impact on environment is high too, not only due to bad driving behaviours, generating huge amounts of CO2, but also because of accidents involving dangerous goods or substances. 

In a recent post, CSR expert and author Elaine Cohen, writes that she believes that, in the next generation of GRI indicators, “G4”, “other issues that are not specifically covered in G3, should be considered, such as the issue of road safety and how companies manage employees who spend a lot of time on the road for work purposes, a significant source of fatalities and other accidents which endanger not only employees but the general public“. I couldn’t agree more. Many companies already include road safety in their CSR plans and strategy. Some of them because they are directly or indirectly, related to the transportation industry, or vehicle manufacturers such as Ashok Leyland. Others, because they realize that there’s an opportunity for them to improve their workers well-being while impacting positively other areas such as the environment and public safety. It is much better for an organisation to be promoting a good news safety story such as winning an award, than it is to have to react to and suppress the outcomes of a major incident. Those companies also realize that their initiatives directly impact their bottom line and that they can gain a competitive advantage by being ahead of more reactive organisations.

World Health Organisation data suggests that approximately 1.2 of the 5 million global injury deaths each year are road crashes. It’s clear that road safety is a major social issue. I believe that it is also a business issue. What do you think?

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