MTO auditors play a key role in truck safety

by Blair Gough

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Mike McKay recently asked me if I’d be interested in speaking to a group of newly hired auditors, and I jumped at the chance.

Mike now shares the responsibility of looking after the entire audit program. He figured there might be some benefit found in an ex-MTO guy (who now deals with both the industry and the ministry) talking about dealing with the ministry in the event of an audit.

I had the opportunity to make such a presentation this May to a fresh crop of 24 auditors. While some were brand new, many others were ex-on-road enforcement officers who were about to become facility auditors.

I wasn’t there to lecture. I was there to share my experience associated with hundreds of audits in which I’ve been involved over the last decade. Further, I wanted to tell them that auditors don’t need to be considered an “enemy”, but instead should be considered for their roles in auditing for compliance, to facilitate, to educate, and to lay charges for non-compliance.

First, auditors should be proud of their job. The public rightfully expects the truckling industry to be a safe one. And further, auditors shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the trucking industry also holds that objective as a high priority. Running an unsafe operation, cutting corners on maintenance or whatever, always proves to be a costly exercise.

Second, the job of a public sector auditor is not much different than one in the private sector. Perhaps the only difference is that public sector auditors can lay charges. But both – whether an MTO auditor or an accountant – compare aspects of a business against established performance standards. Whether someone is examining the Highway Traffic Act and its legal obligations, or auditing financial records in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, the purpose is to verify compliance and identify necessary changes and improvements when required.

Third, auditors shouldn’t forget for a minute that any government employee works for the public, and not the other way around. They are in a unique position since they’re also members of the public, but so are members of the trucking industry. They have an obligation to enforce the law, but only in a fair and equitable manner.

On the matter of enforcement, the point was made that it doesn’t matter what you call them – auditors are enforcement officers. This is true in the sense that they are provincial offence officers with the power to lay charges, to uphold provisions of the Highway Traffic Act. That’s not unlike the role of regular police officers.

But it would be a sad day if an auditor’s enforcement role became the primary image conveyed to the public or, to be specific, to the trucking industry. A more important image would see officers, regardless of which uniform they wear, viewed as knowledgeable, experienced in their area of expertise, and a source of information and advice that can help achieve compliance.

In the case of MTO auditors, many have been in the doors of a countless number of carriers, and know the best and the worst; what to do and what not to do. This is valuable advice they can share with the industry. I’m aware of plenty of instances in which an auditor or on-road officer has laid charges against a carrier, yet the carrier continues to view the officer as a good and reliable source of compliance information. As they should.

While it’s all fine and dandy for an MTO auditor to exhibit positive traits, knowledge and understanding, it’s equally important for the industry to act in a manner conducive to a good relationship. The auditor has a job to do. No business likes an audit, per se. And, in most cases, it’s not the prospect of an “enforcement visit”, but the time it takes and the costs associated with it.

In advance of the audit, the auditor will likely have requested specific driver and vehicle documents. Have them ready and organized. It’s more difficult and stressful when you’re running around during the course of an audit, and it doesn’t do anybody any good.

When the auditor shows up, sit down with him or her for a while. Let them know whom they can deal with throughout the course of the audit. Show them around. Give them a feel for the business. Encourage them to ask questions, and let the auditor know that you’d like advice where any problems are found.

In short, treat them with the respect they deserve. n

– Blair Gough is a consultant to the trucking industry and can be reached at 905-689-2727.

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