John Coll, Divisional Director of Plant, Transport and Procurement at J. Murphy & Sons Limited, talks to Utility & Contractor Fleet Manager about the resources that are utilised to sustainably manage such a diverse fleet
The Murphy fleet of vehicles is a vital resource that has been helping us to deliver critical infrastructure projects for our clients for over 60 years across the UK and Ireland. In the 1970s Murphy played a pivotal role in the introduction of natural gas in Britain and Ireland, including the construction of major sections of the new gas high pressure transmission system and local distribution networks. In the early 2000s Murphy was responsible for the tunnelling for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, major cross-country gas and water pipelines schemes, and large contracts which powered the London 2012 Olympics.
Our van fleet has been crucial in our ability to safely transport our employees and materials to rural and sometimes inaccessible areas of the country to undertake the work. As the scale and scope of our civil engineering work became more diverse and widespread across the UK, we supported this growth through ongoing investment in a modern plant and transport fleet.
Our fleet has adapted and grown with us to meet project requirements, becoming ever more sophisticated through the years. Murphy has made a firm ongoing commitment to continuing to reduce its environmental impact. This has included retro-fitting the latest emission saving technology to our fleet and adding new safety enhancements such as shelving and racking and vehicle livery. The company provides the best possible facilities and equipment for its employees across its offices, depots and project sites, and the Plant & Transport department is a central strand of this strategy.
Describe your role at Murphy Group?
As Divisional Director of Plant, Transport and Procurement at Murphy I run the fleet operation along with two Plant and Transport Managers, Brendan Sugrue, who looks after the Southern region, based in London and Damian Strangeway who looks after the Northern region, based at Dinnington, near Sheffield.
The three of us work very closely together as a team and ensure that our fleet is managed and maintained to the high standards to which we expect all our drivers to adhere. Safety is paramount in our operation to protect our employees, the environment and communities.
We also have a large holding of plant and the team looks after all aspects its safety, specifying, purchasing and disposal. We monitor the financial feasibility of keeping vehicles on the road or replacing them.
What challenges do you face in maintaining such a diverse fleet?
Our biggest challenge is, without doubt, safety. All drivers understand that we take safety very seriously. When they are out in our liveried vehicles they are representing the company so we set ourselves a very high standard.
We carry out a wide range of in-house and external training to engage with our drivers to deliver this message and develop a two way communication flow to learn from them and learn of their ideas and experiences. To support us, we have excellent training facilities at our head office in Kentish Town, north London. This is accredited for CPC Driver training which is carried out by our own in-house approved trainers.
We manage and maintain our fleet in-house and we are proud to have some of the best mechanics and technicians out there. It is important to set and maintain standards and so Murphy has a rolling programme underway to ensure that our vehicle technicians are all IRTEC (Institute of Road Transport Engineers Certificate) approved. The scheme assesses the competence of technicians working in the commercial vehicle, trailer and passenger-carrying industries. Technicians and mechanics who take the IRTEC test are assessed on their theoretical and practical skills and, if successful, are awarded an IRTEC licence. We see the scheme as being of real importance to Murphy as well as industry and the general public. It provides confidence that people involved in the inspection, maintenance, and repair of road transport vehicles are competent to undertake their duties.
A major challenge for construction and civil engineering at the moment is the shortage of young talent coming into the industry. To meet this ongoing issue we have a structured apprentice programme because a steady flow of talented people are needed. We take pride in the fact that we invest in people and give them versatility through training.
Fuel cost and use is also an issue that we are proactively addressing. The company has established a wide range of sustainability improvements that have achieved a reduction in the amount of fuel used and significant fleet emission reductions. This demonstrates that measures introduced can save carbon as well as cost.
Improvements include driver training, vehicle tracker reporting, speed limiters and the use of more fuel efficient vehicles. However, price fluctuation/volatility continues to remain a problem. To put this into context a fuel price increase of a penny a litre puts an additional £120,000 per year onto our costs.
We also continuously review and improve our processes to ensure that the right vehicle is used for the right job. For example, a 4x4 vehicle should only be used for an off-road environment. Similarly, the appropriate size of van/truck should be used for a load that is being carried.
How much does technology affect your role and what initiatives have you rolled out recently – or plan to roll out – utilising new technology?
Using new technology is very important and affects us for a variety of reasons. The introduction of Euro VI engines has resulted in a change to diagnostic equipment in our workshops and, on the plant side, stage 3B engines will become compulsory in London in 2015. These deliver the lowest particulate emissions of any plant currently available. We buy the most up-to-date units so they can be used in the Capital and throughout the country.
All our commercial vehicles have tracker units fitted and the information which we receive allows us to monitor fuel usage, driving times and distances and idling reports. As part of our Driver Awareness Campaign we utilised information from our vehicle tracking technology to engage with our drivers, discussing, in line with our Never Harm Culture Programme, the subconscious and conscious processes which resulted in them making either good or bad choices when driving. Following this, we saw the following positive changes in behaviour which achieved:
• Zero re-offending to date from the 53 drivers who exhibited poor choices and thus negative driver behaviour.
• 36% decrease in Road Traffic Accidents in 2013 per million pound turnover compared to 2012.
• 43% reduction in transport related charges and significant reduction in severity of accidents.
Further sustainable initiatives include trialling hydrogen operated plant to monitor efficiencies recently as we know that hydrogen construction vehicles are nearing availability.
Operating a fleet of vehicles in often heavily trafficked urban areas present challenges to ensuring the safety of road users. Murphy has worked with Crossrail and Transport for London’s FORS scheme to develop a solution to reduce risks to cyclists and pedestrians from movements of HGVs in built up areas.
Cycling is currently enjoying a revival in the UK, with the number of cyclists using the roads increasing year on year. This highlights the urgent need for the industry to take further measures to reduce the dangers, not only in London, but nationally.
Murphy introduced a Safe Urban Driving course for all our drivers to provide practical on-road cycle training. Encouraging drivers to ride a bicycle and get a cyclists view of the road gave drivers the opportunity to experience firsthand the changing streetscape and urban environment and learn to recognise the hazard faced by vulnerable road users.
We have developed a Cyclist Safety System which was launched in early 2013 for all Murphy HGV vehicles and provides instant information to the driver and an immediate warning to alert the cyclist of the vehicle’s intended manoeuvre. Comprising Sidescan detection sensors and camera warning systems linked to a warning unit, the system alerts cyclists or pedestrians when the near side indicator is activated and the vehicle is preparing to make a left hand turn. A signal in the cab warns them if a cyclist or pedestrian is within 1.5m on their near left side.
Murphy introduced the technology as the latest step forward in bringing increased protection, especially to pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users and also to ensure the well-being of Murphy vehicle drivers. Side guardrails have also been added to 120 HGVs to provide further protection to cyclists and avoid entrapment issues. Murphy drivers have responded positively to the new device, with feedback showing they feel much safer and better equipped than they used to be.
The innovation resulted in Murphy’s HGV operations exceeding the safety standards required by clients and was one of a number of fleet innovations which saw us achieve the FORS Gold Stamp Accreditation in 2013.
Another item of innovative technology we have installed recently is the elebia automatic crane hook systems on our hire trucks. This hook is equipped with a magnet on its lower section and when it is close to the load it retracts and positions itself. The user operates it by remote control and this eliminates the risk of accident from climbing on the load.
The rising cost of fuel is a major concern for fleet operators, what are you doing to combat this?
Just a one pence per litre rise in the price of fuel can make a big difference to the operation so it is important for us to buy the most fuel efficient vehicles and monitor driving techniques.
The results of our driver employee monitoring programme has shown and proven that safer, slower drivers use less fuel. The monitoring process includes a number of parameters such as the recording of speed, driving habits and idling, which can allow us to address any issues that are raised. However, we don’t just focus on the negatives, we highlight our top drivers every month too and promote the positives.
We have a number of vehicles in service currently trialling engine management fuel saving devices which are producing some great results - as a topline up to 10% fuel savings can be achieved. When procuring new vehicles and plant, fuel usage is a major factor in our final decision making process.
The company has a robust approach to ensuring that we operate a safe and sustainable fleet and the measures introduced have been very successful in engaging with our employees and industry wide working groups to establish best practice in fleet management.
In 2013 fuel use in the UK of fleet vehicles was 9% less per million pound turnover compared to 2012. In addition, the initiatives introduced contributed to a considerable reduction in accident and transport-related charges of 43% from 2013 compared to 2012.
You are one of the flagship organisations with accreditations such as Van Excellence and FORS Gold, do you see these as important benchmarks when you are risk profiling your suppliers and
Fleet best practices and innovations introduced by the department have seen Murphy achieve a prestigious FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) Gold Accreditation which demonstrates our commitment to continuously improving our practices in order to sustain the highest standards of freight operations.
The company has also received Van Excellence award from the Freight Transport Association, and in July 2014 we signed up to become a Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (CLOCS) Champion, committing to and promoting safety nationally across all our operations and the wider industry. The construction logistics industry, working collaboratively with developers, vehicle manufacturers and other organisations, have made great progress towards minimising work related road risk. Over 60 organisations have now committed to working together to improve road safety through the CLOCS programme.
The FTA’s Van Excellence is a brilliant idea and provides an excellent benchmark for the industry as a whole. We have a rolling programme of evaluating all our suppliers and sub-contractors. One of the key questions within the Supplier Questionnaire is what transport or fleet organisation they are members of. If they haven’t already got any accreditations, we encourage our supply chain to get more involved with Van Excellence, FORS and CLOCS with the view of becoming a member, and we do everything we can to support them and encourage the sharing of best practice.
Things are much more open nowadays and it is acceptable and right to share best practice with others – something that may not have happened a few years ago. Innovation helps us to do things more efficiently and you have to be co-operative with partners.
At Murphy, we operate the Murphy Bright Ideas™ initiative to harness, recognise and reward our people’s innovative thinking. We have also developed an Innovation Microsite, www.murphyinnovation.com, to promote innovation across the industry.
What challenges are presented by having to manage both vehicles and personnel at remote sites?
We are able to overcome the challenge of working nationwide and in remote locations as a result of our large maintenance facilities strategically located throughout the UK. This ensures that we can carry out the majority of our maintenance in-house.
On large one-off contracts we set up temporary workshop facilities where our van fleet and plant can be maintained throughout the life of the contract.
We also have agreements in place with key framework suppliers to carry out maintenance on our behalf where required for projects in remote locations. In addition, we have a number of mobile technicians to mobilise quickly should any fast response be required.
Furthermore, our main depots are set up with equipment to MOT standard including manufacturers’ diagnostic tools which allow us to maintain our fleet efficiently and to a high standard.
We also run a number of welfare vans which are invaluable on rail network contracts. We used to put these vehicles together ourselves but we now use a supplier so there is complete consistency.
Electric Vehicles (EVs) are being trialled in fleets across the country. Do you currently have EV or Hybrid vehicles on on your fleet?
Both pure electric and hybrid vehicles have a presence on the Murphy fleet. We currently have seven EVs – two Nissan e-NV200s, two Nissan Leaf cars and three Vauxhall Ampera cars. The cars are located at our Head Office in London where charging facilities are available. We also have a fleet of 17 Toyota Prius cars and shortly will be introducing the new Mercedes E300 Bluetec Hybrid executive vehicle.
We have certainly seen cost benefits with the EVs in London. Apart from the obvious fuel saving, the cars are congestion charge exempt which is also a great cost benefit. We are actively encouraging company car take up on EVs too, there are significant tax incentives and, at present, free installation for home charge points. I see the length of charging times as the main barrier at the moment, but as technology progresses and the time reduces, this should remove the problem.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your role?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing the younger generation progress within the plant and transport industry. We have a number of young employees who joined the company from school and who have now qualified in either Transport CPC or Accountancy AAT.
We also run an apprentice programme and it was really exciting when one of our young apprentices, Shane McHugh, working on the Crossrail project, won the Construction News Apprentice of the Year 2013 Award. Shane was recognised for his outstanding achievement and dedication he had shown in his role.
For me, the younger guys have drive, knowledge and passion and bring many benefits as they have a lot to offer to the more experienced people within the industry. We need to help and support them as much as possible as they are the future managers of the company and the industry.
And the most frustrating?
PCNs! Dealing with parking fines is nearly a full time job. It is very difficult when staff need to undertake works at the side of the road and in restricted areas, so we often challenge the fines we receive for these reasons.