Safety is as much part of Volvo’s present and future as it has been in the company’s past.
The safety of people, machines and the environment they operate in is at the heart of Volvo CE activities.
Safety rules that should never be broken when operating construction equipment include wearing a seat belt, driving carefully, paying attention to surroundings and – importantly – driving sober.
To reinforce its dedication to safe machine operation Volvo CE has introduced a breathalyzer test at its customer center in Eskilstuna, Sweden, for all visitors hoping to test drive equipment. Initial concern that visitors might view the move as unnecessary or overbearing proved unfounded, with a positive reaction and no fall in the number of people wanting to operate the machines. Now the safety measure is set to become standard practice at Volvo CE customer centers across the world.
More than 25,000 people visit the Eskilstuna center every year and approximately half of them choose to operate the wide range of Volvo equipment available in the test yard. The breathalyzer initiative ensures all visitors understand the importance of handling the machines safely, as well as guaranteeing that they are in the best shape to operate the often big, heavy and fast-moving equipment.
“We want everyone who comes to the customer center to enjoy themselves,” says customer center, exhibition and events director Carl Gindahl. “But we also have an obligation to make sure everyone who visits us remains safe. As it is, we have operators with differing levels of skill and experience, and that is challenging in itself, so needing them to be sober is a basic requirement. Thankfully, we have never had an alcohol-related incident – or accident of any kind, in fact – but only preventive measures will ensure it stays that way.”
No one knows what effect just a single alcoholic drink will have on any individual. It depends on a variety of factors including age, sex, weight, whether they have eaten beforehand, how tired they are – even their general mood. Legal limits differ from country to country and in some countries there is zero tolerance. The penalties also vary – a possible six-month jail sentence in the UK and Ireland, and from one day to three years in Luxembourg. A drunk-driving conviction in France could bring between two months and two years behind bars and up to three years in Finland.
“We’re not trying to make criminals out of our visitors – it’s just about safety, nothing more,” says Gindahl. “And our guests respect that and aren’t offended when asked to take the test. I’ve not had a single negative comment about it – nor has anyone refused to take a test. To be professional, we decided that we had to have a fixed limit, so we are using the same equipment used by the Swedish police and the same safe road driving limit operating under Swedish law – 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. Which, incidentally, is one of the lowest in the world. The process is automatic – just blow into one of the disposable plastic tubes and the breathalyzer does the rest.”
The initiative is “a sensible precaution”, according to Hauke Schlichtmann, head of earthworks and landscaping at specialists CSK Schlichtmann of Balje, Germany, and makes “perfect sense”, according to Heiko Obst, a technical manager with civil engineering company Georg Grube GmbH, based in Bremerhaven, Germany.
“We have many of our own machines and trucks, so we understand the responsibilities involved,” commented Obst during a recent visit to the customer center. “Breathalyzing people who want to test machines is just fine by us.”
The company’s concern about alcohol consumption and the operation of machinery goes back to the mid-19th century in Eskilstuna where Johan Theofron Munktell, the son of a clergyman, founded in 1832 what has become Volvo Construction Equipment. In 1854, he started a brewery next to the workshop in an attempt to promote temperance among his employees – in those days, beer was seen as a weaker and more acceptable alternative to the spirits that were habitually drunk.
In several countries, current legislation gives drink-driving offenders the opportunity, at the discretion of a judge, to take part in an ‘alcolock’ rehabilitation program. This is an ignition lock that prevents someone who has consumed alcohol from even starting their vehicle. The driver blows into an on-board breathalyzer before activating the ignition. The device can be set at different levels and the vehicle will not start if the driver is over the limit. The program has been used in rehabilitation programs for repeat offenders in the US, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Belgium, where research shows they are more effective in preventing recidivism than license withdrawal or fines.
Finland, France and Spain have mandatory alcolocks on school buses. They are also used in government and company cars in Sweden, and more than one in four heavy trucks sold by Volvo in Sweden is now factory-fitted with an alcolock. Volvo was the first to offer the device as an option on new cars – there have been calls in the Swedish parliament for them to become mandatory – and installation can reduce insurance premiums.
The breathalyzer comes as no surprise to visitors at the Volvo CE customer center. “On the evening they arrive we welcome all our guests and explain that if they want to use the machines the following morning then they will have to be breathalyzed,” says Gindahl.
“We have mandatory rules when it comes to testing the machines – among them, you have to be at least 18 years old and you have to be sober. We sometimes bend the rules for technical apprentices younger than 18 – but we never make exceptions on being sober.”