Documenting fleet operations can seem like a daunting task at the best of times. Canada’s National Safety Code and the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations on their own require files to include preventive maintenance records, driver qualification files, logbooks and more.
Most carriers will comply with the rules, perhaps losing an occasional driver’s log along the way, and they will usually pass an audit if seen to be making an effort.
If an issue arises, maybe there will be a slap on the wrist, a minor fine, or a suggestion that other audits will follow.
But the demand for more detailed records becomes more pronounced in the wake of a serious collision.
Consider the case of one fleet whose driver lost control of an oversized load in a US construction zone and hit the concrete barricades, which tumbled into a nearby van, injuring several people. Most of those who were involved in this collision settled their claims, but two people decided to pursue legal action.
The plaintiffs asked the carrier to supply a wide array of documents for the case. In addition to the driver qualification files, there were requests for logbooks, fuel receipts, toll receipts, maintenance records, training records, and company accident records along with details of fines and claims. Equipment and cargo specifications had to be combined with employee files from the shipper, the results of accident investigations, police reports, Department of Transportation reports, pictures, witness statements, and a statement from the driver of the escort vehicle. Every company policy, procedure and training manual had to be forwarded. As if that was not enough, there were requests for cell phone records, black box data, and e-mails pertaining to the collision.
The driver was even asked for two years of personal Visa statements after he mentioned that he had used his own credit card to pay some business expenses in the past.
The size of the claim appeared to expand every time one of the documents was not produced or fell short of expectations, implying some sign of negligence.
A few best practices surrounding documentation could have provided some added protection.
Driver qualification files, for example, do not need to be limited to regulated documents such as applications, driver abstracts, copies of violations and tickets. Training records can show not only what training was performed when the driver was first hired, but offer details about refresher and remedial training along with certificates of training and awards. Attendance records and agendas from driver safety meetings offer further proof of a corporate commitment to safety.
Disciplinary action, whether it comes in the form of warnings or suspensions, also needs to be tracked. Legal threats for wrongful dismissal can certainly be eased if files record the steps taken to improve an employee’s improper behaviour before termination.
While logbooks typically need to be filed for six months, there are other records pertaining to hours-of-service, which deserve to be protected, too. Training records, for example, can offer the proof that drivers understood the regulations and procedures for completing logs. The results of log audits can be reviewed with drivers and used to focus retraining efforts.
There is certainly room to build upon mandated preventive maintenance records.
A formal preventive maintenance policy can define how often such checks will be completed. But fleets also need to take care to ensure they can meet the established intervals. There will be times when a truck that is scheduled for maintenance will be needed to move a rush load. If service intervals of 20,000 kms make sense, it’s a good idea to include a buffer in the related policy and set the interval of 25,000 kms. This will keep a lawyer from claiming the fleet does not follow its own rules.
Pre-trip inspection reports also need to be monitored to ensure the checks are properly completed.
Defects must be documented, and major defects need to be repaired before the truck leaves for the day.
Drivers who are caught with defects that should have been noticed can expect bigger consequences during a roadside inspection.
It’s a good idea to have maintenance teams cross reference repairs with the pre-trip inspection reports. If maintenance teams discover that a defect was fixed but not recorded in the pre-trip inspection, the driver will need some added training.
Paper trails like these are a little extra work, but relatively easy to maintain once they are established.They will also lead fleets away from the threat of roadside violations or worse.
This month’s expert is Kevin Dutchak, risk services specialist with Northbridge Insurance. Kevin has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years as a driver, in operations, safety, training and risk management services. 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. Visit www.nbins.com.