Plan to be safe

by Ray Mercuri

I don’t know of any professional driver who actually goes to work planning to be unsafe. And most fleets try to do a good job in the arena of safety.

According to a recent American Trucking Associations study, there is a direct correlation between safety and profits.

Small operations don’t always have the luxury of a fleet safety specialist on staff, but that doesn’t mean you should add trucks without adopting a safety program.

The first step is to establish some basic foundations. These can be written by safety consultants, or culled from suppliers such as J.J. Keller, or from the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s safety manual. From there you can simply tweak the details to meet your specific needs.

A formal safety policy should be clearly written, read and signed by all employees. It must assign responsibility, with no room for compromise, outlining:

minimum driver hiring standards. What experience will you require of those who want to sit at the wheel?

fleet speed policy. Set in stone the maximum speeds that are allowed on the highway, and make it a reflection of the posted speeds.

required driver training programs. Just because you’re a small operation, you shouldn’t hire and forget your driver’s needs. Sign him up to take structured safety courses, such as those provided by provincial trucking associations.

the company’s safe driving rewards program and financial initiatives.

the fleet’s maintenance standards and procedures, and the driver’s and shop’s role in the maintenance process. This is where you should detail the process to be followed if an out-of-service item is discovered. And outline all the steps that you expect to be followed during a pre-trip inspection.

the company disciplinary process. What happens if an employee runs afoul of one of these rules?

alcohol and substance abuse policy. Remember that drivers have to belong to a screening pool if they cross the border.

accident and injury reporting procedures.

details about how to fill out a logbook.

driver medicals and renewal intervals. You’ll want to note when a licence may come due, to ensure that your employee is legally allowed to drive.

Above all, you must do more than pay lip service to this policy. This is the document that will make or break your fleet if it is put under the microscope during a compliance audit. If your policy states that a driver must have a minimum of two years accident-free driving and a clean abstract before being considered for employment, but the auditor finds you routinely hire anyone who can make a moist mark on the mirror, then you have a serious internal problem.

Treat your formal fleet safety policy as if it were a contract. Monitor, measure, audit and modify it constantly for continuous improvements. Ensure proper orientation, education and delivery to all fleet personnel so they become fluent with the policy. Finally, you need to protect it in your day to day actions.

Live, eat and breathe safety in the workplace.

Ultimately, training is instrumental to safety. You need to determine what your core business is to determine what training is actually required. But every sound safety program will include formal training aimed at improving and teaching defensive driving skills. Watching a video is not enough.

You may choose to utilize the PDIC (Professional Driver Improvement Course) available from your provincial safety league, or employ the use of a local professional driver training school.

If dollars are tight, I’d highly recommend training in defensive driving techniques for your quickest and best payback. You can hire this training portion out to a safety professional or a commercial driver training facility on a contract basis.

Regular safety meetings will focus your drivers and help maintain your safe driving record. In my experience, a weekly or bi-weekly “five-minute, one subject” safety topic is the way to go. Formal four-hour meetings are costly and hard to schedule, and it’s hard to keep an adult’s attention during a long seminar.

If you deliver a five-minute safety meeting on one defensive driving technique or you choose to analyze a local accident, you get your drivers’ attention and you can get results. Have your drivers pick apart an accident from the local newspaper and determine the causes and how it could have been avoided. Ask a driver with a good safety tip to present it to the group. And use outside experts. I have used representatives from MADD, enforcement branch officers, tire suppliers and repair vendors. They usually do it as a service to you and they have the desired impact on safety that you want. The Ontario Trucking Association’s Road Knights team also includes excellent spokespeople for safety.

If you can’t measure your safety program, you can’t manage it. You will need to determine your present accident/incident interval frequency (i.e. how many miles or hours you operate before you are involved in an accident.) Track and record each incident while keeping track of total fleet miles. If you go into business with five tractors and they each run 10,000 miles per month, you need to set up a method to record and track fleet miles. Make it simple and keep it current on a monthly basis. Five tractors x 10,000 miles a month = 50,000 miles per month. And for our example, let’s say that in a one-year period you have two vehicle accidents. You would calculate your accident frequency for your fleet as follows: Five tractors x 50,000 miles per month x 12 months = 600,000 miles per year. Dividing that by two accidents determines one accident for every 300,000 miles of operation.

The American Trucking Association says that a good fleet operation will achieve an accident frequency of one incident for every 750,000 miles. It’s a lofty goal, but it can be reached.

But analyze each fleet accident that does happen based on accepted “at fault/not at fault” principles and guidelines that are available through your provincial Transportation Safety League. You will be able to classify accidents and categorize them as a backing accident, vehicle rollover, intersection, rear-end, run off the road, or hitting a fixed overhead object, etc. This kind of detail will help you determine your Top 3 accident classifications to determine the remedial driver training you need to correct them.

And make your safety bonuses significant. I recommend ensuring that financial payouts to driver personnel are done on a monthly or quarterly basis versus annually, so that the monetary rewards are more frequent and drivers will remain more focused on safety. Recognize your drivers’ safety achievements and make a big deal about them.

Some fleets offer a bonus point system where drivers can accumulate points to exchange for a dinner for two, or a weekend resort getaway. I know a small fleet owner (six tractors) who offers a huge incentive to his drivers. After they complete five years of service, operating accident-free, he leases the driver a brand-new pick-up truck on top of his regular compensation package.

Do you think this fleet owner has a driver turnover problem? No.Do you think his drivers strive to be diligent in safe driving practices on a daily basis? You bet.

And audit for results. Your focus should be directed on driver files, provincial commercial abstract reviews, and fleet maintenance files. Driver logbooks should be carefully scrutinized.

Every large successful carrier has a formal policy, but as you can see, you too can implement all of the above for any size of fleet operation, from two trucks to a large fleet. n

– Raymond Mercuri is the safety manager at RPS in Mississauga, Ont.

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