The risk in making safety a competitive battleground
February 6, 2013
February 6, 2013
The advent of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program in the US has had a significant impact not only on how carriers manage their equipment and drivers, but also on how they sell their services.
Never before has the safety performance of motor carriers operating in the US, including those from Canada, been so readily available to the public and the shipper community. Carriers that have managed their CSA scores effectively and stand out as top-performers among their peer groups are using that to their advantage when soliciting new business and negotiating rates. And who can blame them?
When several carriers are being considered for a piece of business, with rates being equal or close to it, CSA scores are undoubtedly entering the discussion. A carrier sales rep may even do the legwork and present its own scores along with those of its competitors for comparison. Others may subtly point their customer in the right direction and encourage them to do their own research. This tactic is usually accompanied with some degree of fear mongering and the lecturing of shippers on their societal obligations to choose the safest carrier available.
“I think CSA is a game-changer, and while it’s imperfect, it provides a more comprehensive view of each carrier’s safety potential,” Robert Low, founder of Prime Inc. said during a fall Driving for Profit seminar. “And now, with the public nature of most of that information, shippers have at least some implicit obligation, if not more than that, to review that information and to make decisions not just based on the lowest price. CSA is going to be a watershed for safe truckers and truckers who can manage CSA and keep those scores good.”
At first, it would seem the trucking industry would be well served by moving the discussion with shippers away from rates and towards on-road safety performance. Theoretically, this should motivate carriers to place extra emphasis on their safety programs and if a direct correlation can be made between a company’s CSA performance and its ability to win new business, getting buy-in for crucial safety programs from upper management should be that much easier. What could be wrong with that?
My concern is that, as a carrier’s safety performance, and its CSA scores specifically, become more heavily leveraged in the freight-bidding environment, that carriers will be less likely to share their best safety practices, that they’ll hold those secrets more closely to their vests than they have in the past.
I’ve always enjoyed covering the trucking industry because carriers, though competitors, have traditionally been willing to share insight and expertise on what works – and what doesn’t – in managing their fleets. This is especially true when it comes to safety, as it should be. Keeping our industry’s collective workforce safe and sending them home to their families at the end of each trip should be a shared goal. It’s difficult to imagine it being any different.
However, when discussing CSA in general, and this issue more specifically, with a couple fellow trucking journalists on a recent press trip, one of my American peers noted that carrier executives in the US are already more reticent to speak openly about their safety programs, for fear of losing a competitive edge. It seems that an unintended consequence of CSA is that it has created a competitive environment in which CSA scores are so highly valued and heavily guarded, that motor carriers are less inclined to share information and best practices that could lead to a safer industry as a whole. Put another way, one step forward for truck safety, two steps back.
Here in Canada, we are fortunate to be home to some of the safest fleets in North America. One carrier executive told me, to paraphrase, “We have no choice but to be safe. We operate in the United States, we’re their guests, and we have an obligation to be safe otherwise they wouldn’t tolerate our trucks on their highways.” I enjoy attending industry events where carriers of all stripes share a stage to talk about their safety programs and best practices.
There’s nothing wrong with viewing safety as a competitive advantage; safe carriers have earned that right. But in my opinion, carriers have a moral obligation to share information that could help protect drivers and other workers within the industry, no matter who they work for. It would be a shame if CSA, despite its best intentions, changed that belief, which I think today is shared by the vast majority of progressive motor carriers and industry leaders.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies