Simply Safe scheme completes second year
Has it proved successful for its members?
BUSK (Belt Up School Kids) was founded by Pat Harris in February 1993 to bring about changes in seat belt legislation, so that school children travelling in coaches and minibuses to and from school would be provided with a lap and diagonal safety belt.
In addition, it campaigned to end the regular overcrowding of vehicles and improve the way in which children were supervised during the journey.
This month sees the second anniversary of BUSK’s Simply Safe scheme, set up to provide schools with a list of operators in their area that have been assessed for legal and safety checks, ensuring that both the vehicles and drivers are compliant to their exacting standards.
The background information required is covered by a five page application form which requests details including; three years of MOT reports, VOSA and DBS/CRB checks and whether the operator has been subject to any public inquiries. This is all verified before BUSK will approve membership. Further checks are carried out every two years (more frequently if a safety issue arises) and additional spot checks also take place throughout this period.
Membership is £12 a month and BUSK provides a number of benefits and services within this fee. These include: website and marketing tools which can prove invaluable to those operators with limited resources or knowledge; a DVD containing a public information announcement about seat belt safety for use inside coaches and current legislation and content to set up a new teacher/parent page on the operator’s own website.
Since its launch, almost 130 coach operators have joined, with around 100 of them being BENCHMARK accredited – a star rating scheme for the minibus and coach industry.
BENCHMARK works by awarding operators with points, which are then converted to stars by fulfilling a number of criteria which exceed the current legislation regarding safety and legal policies. Documentation is then supplied to BUSK to verify the claims.
Schools, parents and the general public can now identify BENCHMARK members by the distinctive logo and green stars displayed on their fleets.
Woods Travel Ltd of Bognor Regis, recent winner of the Top Small Fleet Operator at this year’s UK Coach Awards is one of a number of operators who have achieved six stars, the highest possible rating.
Tina Shaw-Morton, Director of Woods Travel was approached by Pat Harris of BUSK and saw it as an ideal opportunity to highlight the safety credentials of the company.
She is aware that they are not the cheapest operator but ‘pride themselves on delivering the best service’ and wanted to get this message across to schools, many of whom still refuse to look outside of price. ‘It is a constant battle’, she added.
Despite the negatives, such as teachers refusing to comply with the best practice codes (recommendations suggest that those supervising the children are separated around the vehicle, with one sat at the rear by the fire exit so that they can see what is happening inside the vehicle and know how to use the fire escape in case of emergency) once schools have travelled with them and seen the high standards in place, they don’t go back to the previous operator.
For Woods, the process was relatively straightforward as they already had procedures in place which exceeded their legal obligation and this took them straight to their six star rating. However, a check list is provided as a guide to help other BENCHMARK members, who may not be practicing these measures as standard, achieve this status.
Milligans Coach Travel is one of the largest operators of luxury coaches in the South West of Scotland, has been a member of the Simply Safe Scheme from the start and is also six stars accredited.
Milligan’s Coach Travel joined Simply Safe because it strongly believes that choosing a coach company to transport your children should not be based on the cheapest price. ‘Our children are precious and deserve to travel safely,’ said Morag Milligan, Operations Manager for the company.
Although it is difficult to determine whether being a member of the scheme has brought about any new business, Morag confirmed that it helped to justify the cost of their quote by showing the high standards that they have achieved and enabling potential customers to refer to their page on BUSK’s website.
‘It is about educating the general public and making them question the other operator’s quote. We just have to keep chipping away,’ Morag believes.
This week, Lucketts and Worthing Travel were also awarded the maximum six stars in recognition of their high standards of safety. Their measures include a unique driver training facility at the Fareham HQ which reinforces the latest safe driving techniques and dedicated workshop facilities, allowing for constant checks of all vehicles in the fleet.
Paul Barringer, Group Sales and Marketing Director at Lucketts Group Travel, parent company of Worthing Coaches, said, ‘We’re proud to be members of BUSK’s Simply Safe scheme and of our recent BENCHMARK six star rating. As one of the largest suppliers of school travel in Southern England we believe our approach gives reassurance to schools and parents, and sets us apart from other coach travel providers who haven’t signed up to BUSK’s exacting standards.’
There are notable obstacles that operators have to overcome. Of these, price objection from the schools is the largest and despite the risk assessments in place at the premises for the movement of vehicles, many don’t have any procedures for the safe transportation of their pupils.
Most schools and local authorities, will go for the cheapest option as the purchaser, often the bursar or secretary, will not be travelling and may therefore be less likely to consider the needs of the passengers.
When you look at the extra cost in terms of cost per head, it can be as little as a few pence, yet operators regularly have to persuade schools that most parents would gladly pay the extra for the peace of mind that their children are being transported by a company that puts safety first.
As BUSK and members of the Simply Safe scheme and BENCHMARK are very aware, it proves you really can’t put a cost on child safety.
Report by KIRSTY FLATT