Even after 20 years, school transport safety campaigner BUSK UK continues to work tirelessly to prevent coach crash fatalities. Its work now extends to encouraging schools, parents and operators to talk to each other, as Jessamy Chapman finds out.
It’s School Transport Safety Week, which for 20 years has provided an opportunity for schools, parents and coach companies to look at the arrangements for schoolchildren being transported, and seek to improve their safety.
The week is spearheaded by BUSK UK, which has been campaigning for school coach safety for over two decades. Run by Director Pat Harris who founded it in 1993, BUSK’s work over the years has led to all new coaches in the UK having seatbelts installed as standard, and ultimately saved countless lives.
But, Pat’s work isn’t over yet. Over the last few years BUSK has refocused on assisting coach operators, drivers and schools to stay as safe as possible, and its newest initiative sees it extending its free expert advice to parent-teacher associations (PTAs). PTA Corner launches this week, a section of BUSK’s website dedicated to advising these groups.
BUSK has started contacting schools, inviting their PTAs to join. They can then get all the help they need on the legal requirements for making transport arrangements for trips; tips for effective fundraising for school trips; and two newsletters every school term.
Pat tells routeone: “We can offer guidance on safer coach travel, how to hire a coach company, and the key issues to look out for.
“We can help them to sort out a risk assessment. The idea is that the PTAs are in touch with parents, making them more aware.”
Things are changing for coach operators too.
BUSK’s ‘Simply Safe’ brand was phased out in March, and Benchmark now encompasses both the membership role for coach operators, and the six-star safety rating system designed to give schools and parents an at-a-glance guide to the safety of the operation.
Launched in 2013, Benchmark has become even more useful, as operators applying to the scheme are now audited by two independent specialists before being awarded the accreditation; previously the auditing was done by BUSK alone.
The two auditors are Alec Horner at Minimise Your Risk, and Colin Gossage at IVTA Services.
Alec is a specialist in health and safety, risk management and training in the coach, bus and HGV sectors, while Colin is an ex-VOSA man with a long history in commercial vehicle engineering and vehicle testing.
The first part of the process is a comprehensive application form designed to elicit all the information needed in the easiest way possible, with the operator checking off what systems and policies they offer – such as three-point seatbelts, external and internal CCTV, driver alcohol testing, electronic licence checking, and first aid-qualified drivers, among many others.
The auditors then visit the operator and check that what has been entered on the form is correct. “If they’ve said they have a roller brake tester, we’ll know,” says Pat.
“We also ask how often they roller brake test, and check all their paperwork. It would be foolish of them to be dishonest in the application. They have to provide evidence.”
The auditing system will be applied to the existing 125 Benchmark members when their membership comes up for renewal.
The first operator to pass the new standard is London-based new member Westway Coaches, which has passed both audits with flying colours.
Several operators have told routeone that Benchmark is a useful scheme, and Pat reports that one county council actually requires that operators applying to tenders are members.
Working with schools
BUSK’s work continues to force schools to think about the consequences of its choices, and its School of the Year initiative has proved particularly adept for this purpose.
It encourages operators to run a competition for local schools to be chosen as ‘School of the Year’, with the winner receiving a certificate and interest from the local press, as well as a free school trip (within a 50-mile radius), a behind-the-scenes visit for pupils to the operator’s premises, or a trip to the local fire station for a talk from the driver on safety – it’s up to the operator.
“It would be an opportunity for the driver to talk to schools about the job, and how much easier it is when the pupils and teachers support what he does,” says Pat.
The entry form asks questions to make the school think about safety – such as why they think using a Benchmark member would make a difference, or a question that requires them to look at the operator’s website for the answer.
Anthony’s Travel in Runcorn, Cheshire has used the School of the Year competition to great advantage, drumming up huge interest on social media and in the community, with the winner receiving great prestige from the local media.
“We encourage members to sit down with the school in January and plan the year’s trips,” says Pat. “Most schools don’t do this; they wait until a few weeks before a trip, get three quotes, and choose the cheapest.
“It’s about getting them to look at new ways of doing things, and about changing attitudes. More and more schools are getting involved.”
It’s a great idea – but do all operators have time for all this, on top of running their business? BUSK has a solution.
“From this year, we’ll do it for you,” says Pat. “If an operator wants to do School of the Year, we can provide the marketing to schools about it, and administrate the competition.”
Battling driver fatigue
Separate from Benchmark is Nightcap – BUSK’s campaign against drivers sharing rooms on tour. It started as a Facebook group, and now has well over 1,100 members. More and more drivers have joined the campaign, and the barrage of drivers’ poor experiences and often shocking photos has proved hard to ignore: Awareness has been raised among coach operators as to the dangers of drivers not getting a proper night’s sleep.
Pat wants to make it clear to coach operators that it’s not a campaign against them. “The onus is on tour companies to book accommodation that allows the drivers to rest properly and undisturbed,” she says.
“We’re not having a go at coach operators – or even tour companies. But we feel very strongly that tour companies need to be accountable. A lot of coach operators can’t afford to turn down the work, and tour companies can take advantage of the situation.
“And if you’re not taking advantage, our message to tour companies is – why not work with BUSK?”
With this aim, BUSK has introduced a scheme called ‘BUSK Approved’, awarded to tour companies to show that it passes BUSK’s standards for coach driver accommodation. So far, one tour company, European Heritage, has made the cut. “They take it very seriously,” says Pat.
BUSK’s focus, always, is on the safety of children, and Pat’s tireless work over the years has saved many lives. Dozens of coach operators have also benefited personally from BUSK’s membership schemes, legal advice, safety DVDs and media training.
An opportunity to learn from the experts is also presented by BUSK’s annual School Transport Safety Conference – which in 2016 takes place over three days, on 16-18 March.
For more information visit www.busk-uk.co.uk