Ashok Kulkarni remembers every one of them — the truck drivers who lost their lives delivering products on Malaysia’s roads during his watch as operations manager there.

Malaysia’s traffic fatality rate is one of the world’s highest. “We were losing several people a year,” recalled Ashok, who is now responsible for road safety throughout the region. “These were people I knew! I would go to a safety meeting, and someone I had met at the last meeting would be missing.”

Their loss was nothing compared to the anguish of the drivers’ families. “You never forget that,” he said.

Only one good thing has come of it: a safety programme that has virtually ended Shell’s road fatalities in Malaysia, where a fleet of about 300 drivers haul company products over 50 million kilometres each year. The programme has been so effective that the Malaysian government has partnered with Shell to help other companies improve safety.

Fiercely motivated by each death, Ashok and the road safety team were determined to help contractors adopt Shell’s rigorous safety standards. Some were simple, like coating trucks with reflective paint. Others needed more planning and vigilance, such as reducing unnecessary travel and finding the safest routes.

When Shell’s downstream transport team in Malaysia achieved three years without losing a life, the government was impressed. The Malaysia Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS) tried to persuade other companies to follow Shell’s successful practices. However, many saw nothing in common with a global energy company.

"Some companies had the mind-set that road safety had nothing to do with them, even if they wished to help. But all companies can play an important role in making roads safer, because they all use the roads"

Professor Wong Shaw Voon, Director General of MIROS.
Monthly drivers’ safety meeting
Azrie Mohamad-Awal leads the monthly drivers’ safety meeting

The breakthrough came in 2013. At MIROS’s request, Shell agreed to help pilot the International Organization for Standardization’s new ISO 39001 Road Traffic Safety Management System in Malaysia.

The ISO system does not tell a company how to improve road safety. Rather, it provides universal standards for measuring and managing safety processes. The goal is to continually improve results.

“We could have been in for surprises, but we found that our safety practices were already much more comprehensive than ISO requirements,” said Azrie Mohamad-Awal, who manages Shell’s contract road transport operations in Malaysia.

In early 2014, after three months of hard work preparing for the audit, Shell became the world’s first oil and gas company certified in ISO39001 road safety management. Three other organisations also achieved certification.

At MIROS, Professor Wong believes the benefits will cascade throughout society. Like a common language, ISO standardisation allows companies and their contractors to share the same safety systems, regardless of their size, location or industry. So, certified companies prefer to work with certified contractors, who in turn may require their partners to be certified.

As Shell’s ISO 39001 certification drives its contractors and other transport operators to deploy proper road safety management systems, employees at all of these companies will share their new safety awareness with friends and family. The roads will become safer for all.

“This is something very noble,” Professor Wong said. “We are saving lives.”

For Ashok Kulkarni, who remembers all the Shell drivers who died, the journey to improve road safety will always continue.

“Helping establish the ISO road safety system in Malaysia was the right thing to do for the country,” Ashok explained. “But at Shell, we will aim even higher.”

Children waiting to cross the road in Iraq
Shell is working with others to help reduce child injuries and deaths on Iraq’s dangerous roads.

Helping communities stay safe

Drivers on Shell business travel more than a billion kilometres each year. Road safety is a priority for us and we share our approach with others, finding ways to help local communities adopt safer behaviour on the roads.

  • Shell is working with the Nigerian government to incorporate road safety into school curriculums;
  • In Brunei, we take “road shows” to venues throughout the community. Visitors play traffic games, learn how to change a tyre safely, and ride in a device called a “Seat Belt Convincer,” which simulates a vehicle stopping suddenly to demonstrate the advantages of wearing a three-point seatbelt;
  • Shell has joined forces with lraqi police, government and women’s health volunteers to reduce child injuries and deaths on Iraq’s dangerous roads. The programme is training 300 teachers and providing safety lessons for 28,000 students and their parents.

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