Red, amber, green 09 September 2013
Operators not currently taking their OCRS scores seriously need to do so, if they want to avoid a downward spiral of costs and appearances at public inquires, writes Andrew Woolfall
Monitoring and, where possible, managing your OCRS (operator compliance risk score) has become one of the most important functions for transport managers and fleet engineers. The system, introduced in 2006 and substantially revised last year, is the primary enforcement tool used by VOSA for determining which operators are targeted for enforcement. This translates into identifying which vehicles are stopped at the roadside for maintenance inspections or tachograph and paperwork examinations – and which operators have their premises visited for in-depth investigations.
Unfortunately, a substantial number of businesses and individuals still seem to be unaware of the OCRS system, its potential impact on their operations and, conversely, how it can be managed. So, to recap, OCRS is, as VOSA describes it, 'a risk-based measurement used to calculate the likelihood of an operator being non-compliant'. Every time a vehicle is encountered by VOSA, whether at the roadside, on annual test or at a fleet inspection, that encounter is logged. If problems are found, points are attributed, depending on their severity. A risk score is then calculated, taking into account all encounters in the last three years. Points are weighted, so that they diminish in value as they grow older.
VOSA performs a weekly calculation, taking into account the number of encounters and the total value of points. Scores are then awarded to each operator – one for roadworthiness and one for traffic compliance. Each score is mapped to a colour band – red, amber or green. However, certain infringements or defects are deemed by VOSA to be so serious as to merit the operator concerned being sent 'straight to red', regardless of the three-year score.
On the road, VOSA uses number plate recognition technology to determine which vehicles be stop for inspection. This involves cameras fitted in VOSA stopping vehicles or mounted at the roadside. These are linked to VOSA's database, which maps vehicles to operators' licences. As a vehicle drives past a camera, the operator's database is checked along with its OCRS score. If the operator is in the red zone, the vehicle will always be stopped for inspection. If, though, the operator has a green rating, then the vehicle will be allowed to pass. Where the operator is ranked amber, the vehicle will be stopped, if no red vehicles are present.
VOSA takes the view that the score reflects the likelihood of the operator being non-compliant. OCRS, it says, enables its inspectors to target vehicles at the highest risk of having infringements, whether mechanical defects or problem with tachograph charts or drivers hours etc.
Whenever a vehicle is stopped, there are clear costs to the operator. Vehicles are delayed, which might mean loads being rejected. Also, if defects are present, both driver and operator risks enforcement action. It is therefore in an operator's interest to manage its OCRS score so that it stays within the green category and vehicles are not stopped.
Failure to do so means a vicious circle, with vehicles potentially being stopped increasingly frequently. As more defects or infringements are found, the OCRS score gets progressively worse, meaning vehicles are stopped more regularly. Then drivers risk more fixed penalty notices, while operators risk prosecutions and an increasing likelihood that VOSA will pay a visit for a full maintenance or drivers hours investigation. This, in turn, can lead to a public inquiry.
In the green
Managing your OCRS score starts with knowing your colour coding now. Finding out is relatively straightforward, requiring the operator to register with VOSA. The enforcement authority will then make the latest OCRS rating available, along with details of vehicles annual test pass rates, identifying the causes of failures, and providing information on roadside encounters – for example, confirming when vehicles have been stopped and clarifying issues arising. Information can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/manage-commercial-vehicle-compliance-online
Given that the score is recalculated every week, transport managers or fleet engineers would do well to check their scores on a similar basis. Beyond that, however, you need proper systems and procedures to ensure that whenever a vehicle is encountered by VOSA, no defects or infringements are found. And that includes at the annual test. Vehicles need to pass the test at first presentation, avoiding a PRS (pass after rectification at the station).
But the same applies to vehicles in service. Systems must ensure that drivers perform thorough daily first-use inspections, with defects appropriately remedied. Similarly, for the 'traffic' score, they need to manage drivers' hours and tachographs. And they must prevent vehicles from being overloaded, while also ensuring that, if they carry hazardous materials, all proper cards and controls are in place. The aim throughout is to ensure that whenever a vehicle is examined by VOSA, no defects are found and the encounter is 'clear'. This will serve to reduce the three-year score and bring down the colour rating.
There is anecdotal evidence of operators taking this farther and attempting to force encounters in order to get clear inspections and thus positively affect their OCRS scores. Ruses evidently range from submitting vehicles for MoT when the test is not required, to ensuring that vehicles drive past VOSA checkpoints in the hope that they get pulled.
Either way, operators should remember that, if a vehicle is not listed on the operator's licence, credit will not be given for a 'clear' check. This particularly affects trailers or PCV vehicles – neither of which is traditionally specified on a licence.
Then, squaring the circle, by regularly monitoring the OCRS score, and the vehicle encounter history, transport managers and fleet engineers can immediately see that such systems are working. Some operators use the data to incentivise management by including reductions in the OCRS score as part of individuals' performance criteria. A reduction in the OCRS score might lead to a bonus. In such circumstances, any negative change in colour can be acted upon immediately.
Whatever your approach, make no mistake: traffic commissioners are impressed by operators who proactively manage their OCRS scores. Conversely, where an operator is ignorant of the system or leaves its rating to chance, there may be regulatory action. During the course of inquiry hearings, operators are increasingly being asked what their scores are and to explain how they monitor this information. Operators with no systems to do so may well struggle to persuade the commissioner that they are likely to be compliant in future.
Getting it right?
Despite the changes introduced in 2012, criticism is still levelled at the OCRS. The 'straight to red' provisions, for example, can have a disproportionate effect on operators. A recent transport select committee felt that VOSA may be unfairly targeting smaller operators, who are less frequently on the road, suggesting that enhancements to OCRS should be considered to counter this. How quickly change will come is open to conjecture.
What is clear, however, is that the OCRS will remain an important VOSA enforcement targeting tool for the foreseeable future. Operators who are proactive in terms of its management have a clear advantage over the competition.
Andrew Woolfall is with Backhouse Jones Solicitors
Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)
Society of Operations Engineers
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