DUBAI // Keith Elmer did not need two fatal bus crashes in a month to tell him more needed to be done to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers - he was already doing it.
Mr Elmer is a former heavy goods and passenger vehicle examiner for the UK's Department of Transport. He is now a senior manager at Cofely Besix, a facility management company that transports 330 workers to 23 sites, covering more than 9,000 kilometres a day.
"A significant portion of road accidents can be attributed to commercial vehicles, which make up a large part of the day-to-day traffic on our roads," he said. "We needed to contribute to the greater efforts by road-traffic agencies and make our roads safer."
Mr Elmer worked with other staff to create an advanced training programme for all drivers and implemented it last October.
"We made sure to let our drivers know that they were qualified, but we wanted to provide them with information they could benefit from," said Andre Mars, the company's health and safety manager. "Our workshops focused on areas of improvement beyond speeding and tailgating. We look at driving techniques and behaviour."
Continuing education, said Ian Harfield, general manager of Cofely Besix, was as important for bus drivers as for any other member of staff.
"The better our drivers drive, the safer all our staff will be, which is of paramount importance," he said.
Cofely Besix is not the only company looking to boost drivers' skills beyond the legal minimum. Now in its 78th year of operation, the Dubai Labour Supply Company runs fleets of buses all over the GCC.
"We see going through all the required training and getting your licence as just the entry level," said Mohammed Ayoub, corporate senior manager for health and safety.
"All our new drivers must spend one or two months as trainee drivers, where they must accompany a veteran driver on his daily routine and learn from him.
"We also hold a number of classroom sessions, including defensive driving. It's not a one-off thing, this is a continual exercise."
The company's vehicles were not involved in February's deadly bus crashes - 22 workers were killed in Al Ain with another two deaths on the Dubai Bypass Road - but the accidents spurred them to reassess their health and safety plans.
"We have formed a committee to look at our current safety practices and draft a new safety plan," Mr Ayoub said. "Some of the things we are considering are speed monitoring and speed limiters on our vehicles."
School bus companies also say regular training and counselling of drivers can go a long way.
"We regularly retrain our drivers," said ML Augustine, managing director of School Transport Services, which drives about 55,000 children. "There are about 100 plus modules on various skills and stress management for drivers. We also have safe travel check lists for them.
Mr Mars said companies needed to see the safety implications beyond their office doors.
"Often we overlook the fact that the vehicle is the driver's workplace," he said.
"He spends 10 to 12 hours in that seat, hence its an extension of our own workplace."
* Additional reporting by Preeti Kannan