The current icy weather, which has brought snow and ice to widespread areas of Gauteng and closed Van Reenen’s Pass in KwaZulu-Natal, has highlighted the need for businesses transporting cargo around the country to put risk management strategies in place to protect themselves from massive potential losses in damages and delays.
Phillip Rentschler, Managing Director at Transit Underwriting Management, says because South Africa effectively has nine different major climate zones, poor weather conditions are commonplace throughout the year.
“We often think of South Africa as having relatively good weather, but extreme conditions play a major role in cargo transport considerations and the accompanying insurance requirements.”
He says the Cape Town to Johannesburg (N1) and Durban to Johannesburg (N3) routes, which are arguably the country’s two busiest routes, are both subject to inclement weather on a relatively frequent basis.
stuck in the snow
“Yesterday (Tuesday 7 August), the N3 was closed on Van Reenen’s Pass from Harrismith to the Tugela toll plaza due to snowfalls. Last year, we saw a shut-down in Van Reenen’s Pass for over three days during winter 2011. That shut-down caused widespread disruptions and the loss of millions of rands due to trucks being stuck in the snow in kilometres-long queues on both the south and north-bound lanes of the N3. The Eastern Cape routes into the Drakensberg are also closed regularly because of flooding and snowfalls. Obviously the winter months – from June potentially right into October – bring the most severe conditions and it is during this time that most weather-related insurance claims are received.”
He says that while all types of cargo can be affected by weather-related damage, it is typically bulk cargo, such as grain and fertiliser, that are quite badly damaged by water ingress.
“Another problem lies with most types of fast-moving consumer goods, especially where suppliers and/or retail outlets would not allow goods onto the market that have sustained any type of damage that makes the product ‘unattractive’ from a consumer’s perspective.”
vehicle maintenance always critical
Vehicle maintenance is critical all year round. Rentschler says, “Mechanically, all vehicles must be in tip-top shape. Most vehicles use some form of water-repelling system, usually in the form of tarpaulins. Every insurance policy will make it a condition that the insured has a duty to keep these tarpaulins in sound condition and water-repellant. In the event of a claim resulting from weather conditions due to rain or snow, the insurers will check the condition of tarpaulins above anything else. Many claims are rejected because of this simple oversight.”
Rentschler reports that South Africa’s road infrastructure is under severe load: “Although some of the roads are generally in fairly good condition, regular maintenance is key to avoid the entire grid from deteriorating beyond help.”
Since we are quite likely to experience at least one or two more cold snaps during winter 2012, Rentschler says fleet management and monitoring is vital to make sure drivers are not over-extending their capabilities on the road: “Driver fatigue is a major problem and adding bad weather and driving conditions into the mix is a sure recipe for disaster,” he concludes.
Snow in Africa. Source: Flickr