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Risky Business: Making safety pay

Incentive programs with good participation rates can decrease losses and increase productivity


Motor carrier safety performance is more visible and transparent since the implementation of the CSA program in the US. This, coupled with Canadian legislative changes that made it easier to add shippers and receivers to negligence lawsuits, has led many carriers to look for quick fixes to get their carrier profile numbers down.

Often these quick fixes take the form of safety incentive programs that are not well thought through and frequently have inherent problems that lead to their demise. One carrier, for example, began paying a bonus of $250 for every clean inspection a driver turned in. How long do you think it took the drivers to realize they could make more money passing inspections than they could by driving the truck?

The end result is that trucking company owners become convinced that safety incentive programs do not work which leads to companies missing opportunities to turn their safety programs into a money-makers.

Safety incentive programs should never be considered as a quick fix in a crisis situation. They should be created with the goals of motivating and encouraging employees to work safely and productively. Your safety incentive program should:

  • Identify training requirements
  • Ensure availability and correct use of equipment
  • Promote use of proper procedures.

Carriers should begin by developing an action plan with clear objectives. Start with a situation analysis and describe what corrective measures will be taken. The program must present ideas/measures that will correct a situation and eventually cut costs/losses for the company. To be successful, the following factors should be considered:

  • Participants must see the reward as being desirable
  •  Value of the incentives should grow progressively with continued good performance
  • Employees must see the program as being fair
  • Rewards must be seen as attainable
  • Offered benefits may have tax implications.

Incentive programs must be innovative and progressive. They require on-going evaluation to determine whether or not they are delivering the desired result. It is imperative to understand that incentive programs need time to become effective after implementation. This often requires several cycles of bonus payments before the full benefits are realized.

Creating a successful program involves a willingness to experiment and learn by trial and error. Be flexible to adjust, revise and fine tune the program.

Consider creating an advisory team, representing all areas of the company, who meet regularly to identify problems, suggest solutions, and develop action plans. Drivers do not operate in a vacuum and the actions of others can influence their performance. Think about including those other people in the program—dispatchers, trip planners, dock workers, foremen, supervisors, middle managers, and even the top management!
Most importantly, include consultations with the people the program is intended for. People are more likely to work toward goals that they have helped define!

A communication plan is an essential element of every safety incentive program. Before launching the program, meet with employees, both individually and collectively, and offer them a forum where their concerns can be addressed. Expect a certain amount of negative feedback at the outset and be prepared to increase the frequency of communication to counteract this. Hold information and training sessions as needed to facilitate participation and buy-in to the program.

Lastly, safety managers must be able to demonstrate the value for investment associated with the safety incentive program. Incentives are based on achieving a standard or target within a specified time frame.

Ongoing evaluation of the program has to include progress made toward the standard/target, tracking costs associated with the program, and calculating savings realized in terms of increased productivity or decreased losses.

Progress reports should be provided on a regular basis both to senior management and the participants in the program.

Safety incentive programs do not come in a one-size-fits-all format. What worked at one company may or may not work at yours. And always remember that the target is to keep drivers motivated to improve!

Rick Geller, CRM, has been providing innovative and cost-effective risk management solutions to the trucking industry for more than 30 years. He serves on the board of directors for both the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) and the Professional Truck Driving Institute (PTDI). He is also the incoming chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Fleet Safety Council, as well as an executive committee member for both the Ontario and Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships.

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