6 Sep 21

Army training ensures fleet safety at Gaist

Don’t be misled, Steve Birdsall, CEO of ‘roadscape’ provider Gaist is no drill Sergeant. He doesn’t line up his drivers and make them run an assault course or march in sync while rapping “Baby Shark”.

He does, however, use the training he received while serving in the military as the foundation for implementing a robust fleet safety plan.

Gaist provides data, sourced from sensors in over one million vehicles on UK roads, to local authorities enabling them to have a real-time overview of road conditions in their locality. Through this, they can make informed highway maintenance decisions and monitor road conditions throughout the year. This data is supplemented with images provided by Gaist’s annual surveys, carried out using its fleet of vans, fitted with specialist surveying equipment. They can be seen locally, much like Google Street View vehicles, but instead of surveying the landscape, they’re surveying roads, hence the term ‘roadscape’.

Referencing his army days, Birdsall explains the background to his safety philosophy: “My background is in the military, and I’ve worked as a firefighting, which are two of the least safe working environments there can be. But because of that, they are also extremely safety conscious.”

Even though it was unsafe, and we knew it, we could still plan for safety and we did.”

Planning for danger

The military is notorious for being highly safety conscious, managing safety through robust procedures and minimising risk. Birdsall uses this to maintain a good safety record at his company.

“You re-enforce safety through policies and drive it home through procedures and training.” Birdsall says.

“Gaist’s data gives us a clear overview of the state of the roads in real-time, especially their roughness. Friction tells us what the weather is doing. Combined with information as to what the windscreen wipers are doing, we can tell if it’s raining, snowing, icy.”

Your drivers have to trust you. If you have an apathetic attitude towards safety at the top of the hierarchy, you can be certain it’s going to go all the way down to the bottom.” He asserts.

“If it’s raining hard, snowing or icy, we don’t go out at all. Our drivers have been empowered to use their own judgement about whether it’s safe for them to be out on the roads or not. And they can refuse to do so without any repercussions.”

“The army taught me that if you feel unsafe, the best thing to do is extract yourself from the situation.”

Gaist still has incidents and near misses occasionally but they are dealt with robustly through a continuous job of policies, briefings and talking to keep safety top of mind at all times.

Gaist Fleet Statistics

Fleet Size 15 vehicles
Fleet Mix Cars, Vans, 1 truck
Cars (make and model) Hyundai i20
Vans (make and model) Citroen Nemo
Annual mileage/vehicle 40,000 m
Total distance covered by fleet to date 341,497 m



Image of a Gaist survey vehicle, courtesy of Gaist.

Authored by: Alison Pittaway