The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) has recently been considering the importance of Safety Management Programs – or SMPs – and how they fit with successful fleet operations.
We took the question to a select group of PMTC members to determine whether in their view, structured SMPs actually contribute to their fine safety records. The answer, not surprisingly, was that when a company designs a formal program that details procedures for managing fleet operations, and follows that program, good things happen. With the fleets we contacted, the procedures are written, and all had check lists and sign-offs that ensure no steps were missed along the way.
Not all SMPs are exactly alike because each needs to be tailored to the company’s specific needs, but our discussions did reveal some common elements that are described in this article. We focused on the aspects of an SMP that relates to the drivers, but of course portions may apply to other positions as well.
An effective SMP includes pre-hiring procedures that ensure among other things, that each applicant for a driving position has the basics, such as a valid licence, medical, and a current abstract that meets the company’s standards. In-person interviews with the fleet or safety manager and criminal record searches are also common with the programs we reviewed.
A road test is used to determine whether an applicant has the driving skills required. These are not ‘once around the yard’ tests; they are extensive enough to make the fleet safety manager or designate comfortable that the applicant can handle the truck in a variety of driving situations.
Once a decision is made to hire, the applicant is subject to an orientation period that can last several weeks or more. During this period they learn about the company, its products, and its customers. They are taught the company’s rules with regard to such things as on the job behavior, speed limits, paperwork and hours of work.
During the orientation period, the new driver is often assigned a mentor with whom he will work for a prescribed period of time. This allows an experienced company driver to offer guidance, answer questions, and assess the prospect in day-to-day situations. Some companies even provide air-brake refresher courses during this orientation period.
The second part of an effective SMP is monitoring. Procedure manuals that sit on the shelf and are ignored are worse than no procedures at all. They send mixed messages about the company’s real commitment to safety.
An effective monitoring program ensures that drivers are following the company rules. The list of activities that can be monitored is almost endless, including speed, accuracy of paperwork, timeliness of deliveries, customer complaints or accolades, and renewal dates for driver’s licence, medicals, and other certification documents. If you are not monitoring how your drivers are performing you are probably heading for a surprise down the road say the fleet managers.
The third part of an effective SMP is the action taken when the rules are broken. This may involve simple reminders or coaching, retraining as required, and/or documented progressive discipline. But consistent follow through on the discipline component of an SMP is critical to its effectiveness.
None of what is described above is easy work of course.
Developing policies and committing them to paper takes time, effort and a great deal of thought, and keeping those volumes dusted and up to date is an essential part of the process. It’s exactly the type of job that fleet managers dread because they are so busy with the everyday work of managing the fleet and meeting the company’s expectations. But, in the words of the managers of those exemplary fleets that we interviewed, the effort is well worthwhile.
Those fleet managers are also convinced that such programs are not just for the ‘large, sophisticated fleets’ as many might imagine. The number of small fleets in Canada – defined as less than 10 power units – far outstrips the number of large fleets, and the value of safety management programs is universal.
Managers of smaller fleets can be required to wear a multitude of hats and often need to make decisions on the fly. Having written policies, monitoring practices, and follow-up procedures goes a long way to ensuring that even the small fleet is operating safely and within company and regulatory guidelines.
The immediate reaction to these suggestions might be either “I don’t have the time” or “our drivers already know the rules,” but if you don’t take it from me, take it from the fleet managers we spoke with. A well thought out and administered Safety Management Program is worth every bit of the effort you will invest in creating it.
-The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Your comments are invited and can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org