Drivers cannot be caught in the middle of a service crisis and a safety value dilemma. There are likely many policies and procedures in place that need a slight adaptation to the inflexible reality of electronic logging. (J.J. Keller & Associates Inc. photo)

Will Electronic Logs Change Your Safety Culture?

Follow these five steps to prepare for the collision of culture and technology.

The impact of installing electronic logs can't be understated. When culture and a major change collide, the existing culture will win for longer than you may expect. Implementing electronic logs is a technological change, and even more so, a cultural change. Cultural changes can take a great deal of time if not well planned.

Organizations adopting electronic logs must have an implementation plan that is focused on more than the drivers' use of the devices in the truck. The plan must also define behavioral expectations associated with using the hours-of-service data to safely and legally dispatch drivers who have transitioned to electronic logs—without violating the relatively new anti-harassment regulation.

Have you witnessed a similar scenario at your company?

"A top-producing driver named Pat calls in at 4:30 p.m. and alerts dispatch that their largest customer's first load off the new production line is at risk of being late due to Pat's low hours caused by loading delays. The dispatcher tells Pat, 'This load can't be late or we'll lose the account. Pat, you have to do the best you can, like you always do.'"

If the above scenario sounds familiar, your company's current culture may influence the team to view electronic logs as a barrier to good customer service or as an inhibitor to maximum miles for drivers and company assets. The journey to an improved safety culture with electronic logging devices (ELDs) is not quick, and it can be challenging. Following these five steps can ease the transition:

1. Obtain leadership buy-in of the new vision.

2. Develop clear policies and procedures.

3. Encourage ongoing dialogue.

4. Coach with behavior-based data.

5. Use recognition and rewards to sustain change.

1. Obtain leadership buy-in of the new vision. The first step of the cultural transition is to define your vision of the new safety culture. The attitudes, values, and beliefs of top leadership are the inertia behind your company's safety culture. If the current culture collides with the reality of using electronic logs, your vision must be redefined and realigned to prioritize safety and compliance ahead of service and productivity. The potential conflicts must be addressed openly and honestly with leadership—before the drivers are using electronic logs.

The unwritten guidelines by which employees make decisions are a critical part of the culture. Previously acceptable behaviors that created unnecessary safety risks to avoid consequences from leadership must be changed.

Collaboration with the executive team is imperative to obtain buy-in of your vision. Leaders should reinforce the new vision in their communication with all employees during inquisitions regarding load failures, as well as company-wide business updates. Leadership will reinforce expectations of "acceptable" behavior when the old values and newly clarified values are at odds, such as when there is a choice to ask a driver to run or to tell a fatigued or low-hours driver to shut down.

2. Develop clear policies and procedures. Acceptable and unacceptable behaviors must be defined in easy-to-understand policies and procedures that outline expectations and consequences. Reinforcement of desired behavior occurs through not only the restatement of the policies, but also helping people understand clearly where leadership "draws the line."

If the priorities and values are going to change, uncertainty will likely result. Policies must provide clarity. Dispatch personnel need to know how to handle situations such as drivers running out of hours under a hot load, options and limits to save loads, or how to address an irate customer when a just-in-time load will be late. Drivers cannot be caught in the middle of a service crisis and a safety value dilemma. There are likely many policies and procedures in place that need a slight adaptation to the inflexible reality of electronic logging.

Do your policies and procedures promote a safety culture in conjunction with the ELD implementation? The following checklist can be used to assess for major gaps in transitioning to ELDs. Your ELD policies and procedures should, at a minimum:

Require initial and refresher training of policies and procedures.

Align policies, procedures, and the safety culture across all company facilities.

Require initial training to demonstrate an understanding of hours-of-service regulations, ELD use, malfunction procedures, and data transfer to enforcement.

Require dispatching and operating within available ELD-calculated hours of service and adherence to all Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

Establish guidelines to create safe solutions if drivers run out of hours.

Prohibit harassment (see §390.36) and coercion (see §390.6) of drivers.

Prohibit log falsification by improper logging in or logging out of the ELD, editing or proposing edits to gain on-duty time, or by other means such as tampering.

Adjust audit practices to review unassigned drive time daily, review for ELD falsification techniques, and to verify that "exempt" drivers are qualified for hours-of-service or ELD exemptions.

Define criteria for appropriate use of the "Personal Use" or "Yard Move" options on the ELD if these options are allowed by your company.

Empower, motivate, and reward employees to engage in safe behaviors based on ELD behavioral safety data.

You may discover gaps in your updated policies and procedures due to situational interpretations or regulatory changes that may occur. Periodically review and revise these "living" documents to keep them relevant, accurate, and ensure that policies remain compliant and aligned with the safety vision.

3. Institutionalize ongoing communication. Safety leaders must contribute to the culture change by being a change agent, not just providing their technical expertise. Change agents ensure that safety dialogue occurs through several channels, including leadership updates, driver town halls, and periodic safety meetings, as well as use of social media, newsletters, and seasonal refresher training.

For people to take a significant change seriously, the consistent communication of expectations and standards is essential. Repetition of expected behavior coupled with an open-door policy that allows employees to express their concerns is a keystone process to sustaining and improving the safety culture.

4. Coach with behavior-based data. Reporting systems must provide actionable data that can be used to coach employees. ELDs will provide a deluge of data, creating a potential liability if not distilled to identify feedback that can be used to coach and hold people accountable. ELDs can provide data such as:

  • Hours-of-service limits' violations
  • Unassigned drive time
  • Hard braking events
  • Excessive speeding
  • Coasting out-of-gear time

Drivers, dispatchers, and leadership must not have ongoing friction in their communication. It is essential to place a priority on recognition for the achievement of desirable safety results in addition to coaching and/or discipline after safety events. Your drivers should have an expectation that feedback should as likely be a "Way to go!" or "Thank you" as it is "What happened?" and "How can we avoid it next time?"

5. Use recognition and rewards to sustain change. Discipline, recognition, and rewards determine how safety-related behavior is valued. The disciplinary policies define which behaviors must be corrected and which ones won't be tolerated. The desired behaviors should be clear for office and driver personnel.

Below are a couple of questions that can help engage drivers in the effort to improve the safety culture:

1. How do you describe our safety culture? Hopefully, they won't say things like "You just do what you're told" or "They just care about the stuff in the trailer." It is valuable, either way, to hear what is on their minds.

2. What one change would you make to improve our safety culture? Hopefully, they feel free to share their wisdom.

Strong safety cultures attract, retain, and reward safe drivers; conversely, cultures that allow unsafe or illegal operations attract less safe drivers. In other words, your culture can be a competitive advantage.

A safety reward system should reinforce safe behaviors to create safe habits and incentivize people to correct quickly or proactively avoid safety issues. ELDs can provide much, but not all, of the data needed to indicate when drivers are operating outside of safe parameters. Reports can also provide which dispatchers are proactive in using projected hours available to avoid service issues. Reward and recognition program costs are controllable. However, no one can state with certainty the costs and consequences of allowing unsafe habits to persist.

In conclusion, the five-step journey to adapt your safety culture to electronic logs can provide a framework within which you can improve your current efforts or use them as a guide for an "extreme makeover." Carrier leadership, customer service, dispatchers, drivers, maintenance, and safety personnel must be aligned and work as a team. The vision should be to transform the organization to a culture of shared values—a culture that people will not want to leave.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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