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Safety savings: Tight budgets still leave room for effective safety programs

When times are tough and freight is scarce, fleet managers at every level need to find savings that can contribute to the bottom line. For their part, safety departments can contribute to the process ...

When times are tough and freight is scarce, fleet managers at every level need to find savings that can contribute to the bottom line. For their part, safety departments can contribute to the process by taking steps that establish affordable – and effective – programs.

Focus the investments

Effective training strategies are always linked to specific targets – and for more reasons than one.

This approach certainly presents an opportunity to address every aspect of a challenge. If hours-of-service violations are on the rise, for example, there may be a need to audit the submitted paperwork and offer some related training to show drivers how to comply with specific aspects of the regulations.

But the focus will also make it possible to identify benchmarks that can be used to measure the strategy’s success. Did the number of violations

Ross Johnson

drop in the months after the training? Is there a noticeable difference between one group of trainees and the next?

Remember that some individuals may require more training than others, and improvements should be rewarded with positive feedback. Follow-up training should also be scheduled to ensure that everyone remains committed to the proper procedures.

Quantify all the savings

While every fleet will track the amount of money invested into safety programs, it is also possible to prove a program’s value in financial terms.

Just remember to quantify all of the related savings. A program that helps drivers perform a proper vehicle inspection may lead to a drop in fines linked to roadside inspections, but it will also help to eliminate the price of service calls that would be required at an inspection station, and the cost of downtime associated with roadside repairs.

Sweat the small stuff

The smallest collision could cost your fleet more than $10,000 once towing charges, missed deliveries and the price of downtime are factored into the equation.

It proves that every fleet should sweat the “small stuff.”

The good news is that the cause of these smaller collisions can often be addressed with minor investments. One company was able to slash the number of backing-related collisions in fleet yards with little more than a mirror adjustment clinic to show drivers how to use them.

Use the power of information

An engine’s Electronic Control Module (ECM) contains valuable information about driving habits, identifying the rapid accelerations of drivers who like to speed, and the hard-braking events of those who tend to tailgate.

Smaller fleets may balk at the cost of the tools and software to download such data, especially if they need multiple versions of the software to address engines from a variety of manufacturers, but the information can still be downloaded at a relatively low price during outsourced maintenance procedures.

Think about the root causes

Safety budgets can quickly be wasted on training programs that try to address a symptom rather than a root cause. Before investing in a new driver training program to address hours-of-service issues, for example, take a moment to assess your company’s dispatch procedures. Are drivers running afoul of the rules by choice, or are they trying to meet unrealistic delivery times and perhaps dispatchers should receive additional training as well?

Your insurance company’s loss prevention experts can also help to identify the connections between seemingly different challenges, such as a rash of speeding tickets and an increase in the number of rear-end collisions.

Leverage the free support

There are costs associated with any training program, but support material can often be enhanced with free resources.

Markel Insurance provides its policyholders with information on a variety of operational and training solutions.

Natural Resources Canada includes fuel efficiency driving techniques within its SmartDriver training manuals. And equipment suppliers can offer material or personnel to explain safe operating and inspection techniques related to certain components.

Refine the safety incentives

Never underestimate the value of small incentives such as work gloves, caps or gift cards for doing a good job. These incentives are appreciated, especially when delivered with a heartfelt thank-you.

But beware of any plans to reduce safety bonus payouts by simply increasing the related criteria. This will do little more than discourage drivers from trying to meet outlined objectives. While that may look like it’s ‘pennywise,’ in the long run it can prove to be much more expensive.

– Ross Johnson has 25 years experience in occupational health and safety, fleet safety management and driver training. He started with Markel as a training specialist in 2002 prior to becoming a safety and training services senior advisor in 2004. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column to

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