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Asking all the right questions


Few things predict future losses better than past performance. Citations for aggressive driving, tailgating or speeding often emerge before collisions. Close calls on a loading dock eventually lead to workplace injuries. A spike in customer complaints? That inevitably precedes lost business opportunities.  But there is one thing that will always be better than predicting a future loss – a strategy to prevent the underlying incident in the first place.

The related countermeasures can come in several forms, including such things as tightened hiring practices, refocused training and orientation programs, refined yard procedures, or upgraded equipment. Making the best choice, however, involves looking for a root cause to answer exactly why unwanted incidents occur, and this means exploring the related questions of who, what, when and where.

Who was involved?

The question of who was involved in an incident involves collecting more than a name alone. Was the person at the wheel a company driver, owner/operator, or someone contracted through a driving service? Each introduces a unique dynamic when it comes to the way someone is introduced to a fleet and informed about company policies and procedures.

Even the date a driver was hired can help to identify a root cause. Did they join a fleet before hiring standards were tightened? If so, would they meet the stricter requirements which exist today?

Drivers are certainly more likely to face a crash in their first year working at a particular fleet, regardless of their overall experience, because they are less familiar with equipment, customer expectations and related routes alike. A company driver who was absorbed when another fleet was acquired may not have been exposed to the same training program as his peers. And the trusted owner/operator known to follow every policy and procedure may have hired someone who lacks the same commitment to safety.

What was involved?

As important as the focus on the person at the wheel will always be, equipment plays a role of its own.

Cargo damage, for example, has been traced to everything from suspension systems to the choice of material handling equipment. Other contributing factors can include everything from the number of load securement devices to predetermined reefer temperatures.

An increase in backing collisions, meanwhile, might be traced to specific fleet vehicles which lack tools such as fender mirrors.

Exactly where did the incident occur?

A thorough focus on where an incident occurs looks beyond a street address and explores the nature of a location. For example, did a collision happen at a job site, on a city street, in a truck stop, or on the highway? An unusually high number of backing accidents in a specific customer yard could identify an extremely tight layout, perhaps requiring a fleet to use pups rather than 53-ft. trailers when heading to that particular destination.

When did this happen?

Questions about the time of day inevitably lead to fatigue-related discussions about the number of hours a driver was on duty, the time that has passed since a reset, and whether an incident happened at the end of a driving cycle. But there are also other contributing environmental factors to consider, such as the bad weather which obscures visibility, or slick road surfaces which affect stopping distances.

The ultimate question of why

Each answer brings a fleet manager closer to understanding exactly why an incident occurred. And the emerging countermeasures are not always as obvious as they initially appeared.

A driver cited for speeding through a customer’s yard may have been scrambling because of an overly aggressive delivery schedule. In a case like this, the best solution involves dispatchers and customers as well as any training in defensive driving. And a collision involving a driver with an otherwise spotless record might be traced to a new route that was selected without considering the access into a customer’s yard. Trip plans in this case will need to be re-examined.

Managers who look beyond any single incident – to consider its place in broader trends – will also better identify the need to refine policies and procedures, see how to enhance on-boarding programs to prepare new drivers for future challenges, or even introduce the equipment choices which deliver a measureable return on investment.

The questions never actually end. Once strategies are adopted, fleet managers still need to ensure that desired outcomes are reached. Other incidents will continue to emerge.

But those who ask all the right questions will always be equipped to make the decisions which lead to lasting improvements.

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This month’s expert is Kevin Cole, risk services specialist. Kevin has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years providing loss control and risk management services to the trucking industry. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.


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