Taking back the roads

Najla Moussa
9 Min Read

CAIRO: Proving that saving lives is a serious part of their business, British Gas (BG), one of the leading gas companies in Egypt with over $4 billion worth of investments, is once again sponsoring the second International Road Safety and Traffic Management Exhibition that will take place at the Cairo International Conference Center (ICCC) beginning Feb. 15.

As part of the company’s core business adherence to the health, safety and the environment of the communities in which they operate, BG believes that road safety ranks high on their safety issues.

“Health, safety and the environment are probably our number one concern as a business in the energy sector, says Nagwa Shoeb, policy and corporate affairs manager at BG in an interview with The Daily Star Egypt. “Through our experience here in Egypt, one of the major reasons for accidents and lost time during work is from road accidents. So it is a concern of the company and we feel it’s really important in Egypt.

In fact, road safety and defense driving have become the company’s poster child for their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

Yet, what is now considered the company’s major CSR goal, the issue of road safety is a relatively new social responsibility for the company.

It all began two years ago, when BG launched a road safety awareness campaign in Idku, east of Alexandria where the company owns an LNG plant, their largest operation in Egypt. Bringing together the entire community, BG was able to nail its safety message home, and with it push the government and the rest of the private sector to buckle up on their driving initiatives.

“When we first started operating in Idku, we conducted an environmental impact assessment, and we had numerous sessions with the community to listen to their needs and explain the impact of project, says Shoeb. “We discovered that our staff will be traveling back and forth there and that the Idku community, specifically children and donkey carts, were crossing a highway from the town even when it was dark. We realized that traffic accidents were a big problem there.

To avoid driving accidents, BG launched their now famous road safety campaign in Idku. Aside from working with health centers, schools, mothers and teachers to create awareness, BG also distributed reflective strips for the kid’s school bags and on donkey carts, in addition to placing road signs on the streets.

“With education, you approach each target group differently, says Shoeb. “Children like to be entertained, so we educate them using infotainment. Adults like something more hands on, such as training and educational material.

To reach their target markets, BG undertook several varied measures. To educate youth, BG put on a puppets play, brought in a clown, created a snakes and ladders game, in addition to other creative, yet entertaining activities. For adults, the company provided training and educational seminars and lectures.

In the span of two years, hospital records from driving accidents showed a 72 percent reduction in road accidents; an across-the-board success for BG.

“The results from the campaign were very successful and very encouraging. So by extension, what we are hoping to do is launch a major national campaign, joining forces with other companies to promote safe and defensive driving here in Egypt, says Shoeb.

A national campaign is in fact in the works, according to Shoeb, with NGO’s, the private sector and the government. While Shoeb concedes that the campaign is still in its preliminary stages, she states that the Ministry of Interior and the State Information Services (SIS) have voiced their keenness to jump onboard.

“Maybe it’s because the statistics are becoming overwhelming, maybe because even without scientific data I feel we are being bombarded with major accidents, and maybe its catching up with us, says Shoeb in regard to the governments sudden eagerness to tackle the issue of road safety. “It’s happening in the tourism sector as well, so it could affect major revenue sources for Egypt. As you know Egypt is trying to rebrand itself, put its best face forward. We want to enhance our image; we want to present a progressive, changing Egypt. That, along with the numbers hitting in Egypt is making it finally all come together, and that’s why we are serious about making real changes. Shoeb also states that by the end of February, BG we will have a clear-cut idea of the elements involved in the national campaign.

In the meantime, BG has already undertaken several safety measures and actions. The company, which provides training courses to it’s staff annually with refresher courses courtesy of international trainers, has taken it upon itself to train bus drivers for schools such as the British School in Maadi, where the company’s offices are located.

“We have trained drivers in private schools such as [the] British school because we have direct access to them. A lot of ex-pats working for us have children there. Because we have the training already for our drivers, we were able to extend, said Shoeb.

According to Shoeb, BG is willing to extend its training services on a national scale by assisting the government in training microbus drivers and the likes.

“The point is, it’s a productive partnership between the private sector, NGO’s and the government, says Shoeb. “We can start by training drivers in public transportation, then training taxi drivers before they obtain a license, then private sector companies that have fleets, such as those in construction. Step by step, we can change things. Obviously it will take time and money, but no one said it has to be done in one day.

The corporation of NGO’s is also very important to BG, whose participation in this initiative comes in the form of education and awareness campaigns.

“Reducing accidents comes from education, engineering (road systems and infrastructure) and enforcement. We are focusing primarily on education. Our focus will be raising awareness, providing training, getting the safety messages across. We also have a lot of materials on defensive driving, she said.

At this year’s conference, BG will focus on how the company is trying to change behaviors internally, through training and monitoring.

“We have installed monitoring devices in our vehicles that monitors when the driver breaks or speeds up, so we see their actual driving behavior change it, says Shoeb.

During this year’s conference, BG will include as part of the activities a general knowledge quiz, a play that they will sponsor and the same puppet show they presented to the schools in Idku.

However, while all these initiatives and programs seem bullet proof, the ingrained habit of bad driving etiquette is still something of a challenge, as Shoeb can attest to.

“Changing behavior is extremely daunting and challenging. These road safety messages are only effective when people internalize them and believe that they are indeed important to their safety. Only then will they automatically do them, says Shoeb. “But maybe it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do something about it rather than just complain.

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