Guest article from Alex Selwitz at Red Stag Fulfillment
Last-mile delivery is the most challenging phase of the fulfilment cycle. It takes up more than half of total shipping costs. A lot can go wrong — when it does, it will incur significant costs to your business, product, and reputation. The logistical planning involved takes on substantially greater complexity when compared to more first-mile and mid-mile shipping.
It does not help that customers expect ever-faster delivery. The competition is intense. In the struggle to stay ahead of the curve, safety may be compromised. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a look at four of the biggest last-mile delivery safety challenges and some practical ways to get around them.
Theft of goods
Goods can be lost or stolen during transportation or at the point of arrival at the customer’s destination. Package thieves are a real problem. One in four Canadians have been the victims of porch pirates. You could argue that your responsibility for the product ends at the customer’s doorstep. It’s, however, in your best interest to reduce the likelihood of theft.
Road accidents, abrupt vehicle breakdowns, and bad weather
Vehicles are electromechanical. As with any such equipment, breakdowns can and do occur. You cannot always predict when one of your vehicles will stall on the road. If it stalls or is involved in an accident, that could spell trouble for the safety of both your driver and orders. Bad weather such as tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes can also make driving hazardous.
Driver fatigue, stress, and illness
The last-mile delivery market has been running on a driver shortfall for years now. With so many open positions, existing drivers may sometimes drive further and longer than they would otherwise need to. The result is chronic stress and fatigue, increasing the risk of an accident. Since they interact with multiple people per cycle, drivers may be exposed to contact and respiratory diseases.
The primary reason last-mile delivery is by far the most expensive stage of fulfilment is the diminishing opportunities for economies of scale. The closer you get to your final delivery destination, the fewer customers you will be delivering to within that general area. Safety-wise, this takes on greater risk when the drop-off point is remote. Navigating more deserted roads and making their way to isolated houses places the driver’s personal safety at risk.
Invest in technologies that facilitate real-time order tracking, such as barcodes and RFID readers. At any given moment, both you and your customer know where the product is and what the ETA is. The customer is likely more familiar with the safety and security record of their neighbourhood than you are. That way, they are more likely to plan for someone to be on location at the time their package arrives.
Tracking vehicle movement
Leverage fleet management technology to track the routes your delivery vehicles use. High-risk routes should be highlighted. Such visibility also allows you to keep track of vehicle movement. Unexpected route deviations, unusual stops, overly long waits, or dangerous driving behaviour should be red flags that prompt a welfare call/check to confirm the driver is doing alright.
Preventative vehicle maintenance
While you can’t wholly predict if and when a vehicle will run into substantial difficulties, routine preventative maintenance can reduce the risk of occurrence. Often vehicle failure is a result of worn-out parts that are well past their replacement date. Keeping tabs on fuel, odometer readings, tire pressure, oil life, brakes and more helps you protect vehicle parts from unnecessary wear. For older vehicles’ whose maintenance costs are too high, you may need to consider replacing them with new ones.
Roadside assistance and emergency repair
Despite the most robust preventative maintenance regimen, your vehicle could still break down. Obtaining a 24/7 roadside assistance cover ensures your driver can get the help they need in case they have car trouble. This could go hand in hand with contracting or maintaining contacts with nearby repair vendors who can be on the scene quickly and see if they can help.
In case a driver is running out of fuel, deploy technology that allows them to see the closest fueling site thus keeping fuel surcharges at the minimum.
Create and strictly enforce an upper limit for the number of consecutive driving hours allowed. Make sure drivers take their designated leave days each year. Develop staggered shifts. Provide your drivers with essential hygiene products such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants, tissue, disposable towels, soap, cleaning products, and face masks.
Have open lines of communication with your drivers that allow them to raise concerns openly or anonymously. Make sure vehicle seating is ergonomic to ensure the driver feels comfortable.
Safety challenges eventually eat into your profitability. The direct and indirect costs of lost or stolen packages and driver endangerment will pile up quickly. Yet, fulfilment success and last-mile delivery safety do not have to be mutually exclusive. The solutions proposed here can be a good start to overcoming these challenges and building a successful sustainable last-mile delivery operation.
Need health and safety information for the transportation industry?
Visit the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA)’s website for transportation safety resources. IHSA provides resources and training for work environments involving high-risk activities in Ontario.