Our congested roadways are a very dangerous place to work.

Stearing Clear of Driving Program Pitfalls

A successful program is defined by adjustments and persistence.

Wrecked vehicles, minor fender-benders, major property damage, haphazard driving in severe weather conditions, injury/death to drivers and the public (by your drivers) — as a safety manager, you need to control your driving risks before the phone rings with news that something serious (and costly) has occurred.

Transportation safety is a program of endless challenges that don’t abruptly change as much as they evolve over time. Just when the program appears to be running smoothly, another variable pops up and the program must be reevaluated and appropriately corrected (usually after that last accident). Without these continuous evaluations, the program will inevitably fall behind, resulting in potentially devastating consequences that can impact employee safety and your bottom-line budget. The question is, do you want to manage the program ... or have it manage you?

A Continuous Education
Big trucks, little cars -— no matter what sizes your business vehicles are or how they are used, a strong and consistent program is essential.

Whether an operation has one local delivery driver, a fleet for distribution, or a regional sales force, a program that is easy to understand and follow is of the utmost importance. If a company’s transportation policy is so convoluted that management can't simply recite goals and spell out the safety message, then the program will not be successful. A clear, simple message along with measurable goals transparently shared with company drivers will lead to a culture of understanding and accountability. This is not a one-time lesson but a continuous education for every driver and manager to ensure they know how to comply.

Our nation's congested roadways are a very dangerous place to work. The list of challenges to be overcome by an employer's transportation safety program is a long one — and it is only getting longer.

You assume all your drivers are excellent, but the reality is less rosy. Consider your recent incidents and compare them to these examples:

  • Distracted driving — Cellphones, radios, GPS, makeup, food, children, etc.
  • Crowded roadways — Expanding population, sprawl leading to overcrowded thoroughfares
  • Speeding — Delivery schedules and lean staffing forcing point A to point B as quickly as possible
  • Seat belt use — Often seen as optional
  • Operating under the influence — Alcohol, recreational drugs, or prescription medications impairing one's judgment
  • Sleep deprivation — Second jobs, extra hours, sick child at home, personal illness, etc.
  • Part-time effort from part-time employees — "It's just a paycheck"
  • Following too closely — Not preparing for the unexpected and not considering weather conditions, overextending the capabilities of the loaded vehicle.
  • Tired drivers — Large territories for salespeople and long hours for over-the-road truck drivers.

Several decisions need to be made before implementing a safe driving policy. Will the company review applicants’ DMV records as part of the hiring process? This is costly up front but can save a bundle by weeding out the drivers with a less-than-stellar road history. How frequently should a driver's DMV record be checked for incidents/accidents occurring outside of the workplace? Do you enforce drivers telling you immediately or within eight hours of any serious driving infraction/arrest, such as DUI? Will drug and alcohol testing be required at the time of hiring or after an accident?

Will a points program be implemented to both reward and penalize the driver’s performance? Should a pull-through or back-in-only parking policy be enforced? How can the vehicle be used when not at work?

Most drivers believe that their road skills are adequate, but regular training sessions are necessary to reinforce safe driving behavior and keep it fresh in a driver’s mind. A video, a ride-along with a supervisor, a quiz, or an evaluation will all reinforce the level of seriousness that management has regarding safe driving. Training sessions are also the ideal time to answer any question pertaining to the company’s policy and to express expectations to everyone driving a work vehicle. All training must be documented. Poor performance needs remediation to bring the skills up to par. These documented items also lower your company’s liability by showing you trained the person.

Driving the Message
Some employers utilize new technologies to assist with the issue of safe driving. This can be a very costly measure but one that may recoup the investment in a very short amount of time. Cameras, GPS, and recording devices will immediately raise the awareness of the driver who has a sense of being watched. This deterrent alone ought to improve driving behavior. Some recording equipment will store events in time loops, such as accidents or extreme braking, so a bad day on the road can be better understood and turned into a teachable moment.

Vehicle maintenance responsibilities should be spelled out so all parties understand how the vehicle is going to be managed and who is responsible for that upkeep. Without clear instructions, shared vehicles will quickly become a source of finger pointing, and personal-use vehicles will be beaten into the ground (treated like a rental). The physical condition of the vehicle should be monitored and recorded on a checklist that evaluates any damage — working headlights, turn signals, windshield wipers, tire condition, etc. Habitual abuse needs to be dealt with through disciplinary action or termination.

For drivers of vehicles that advertise the name of the organization, it must be emphasized that representing an employer, often as the face of a company, is a big responsibility. With the name or decal of the organization plastered on the side of the vehicle, the manner in which the vehicle gets to its destination will have an impact on how your organization is perceived in the community. Rude behavior or sloppy driving, such as rolling through stop signs, cutting through gas stations to avoid stop lights, and swerving through traffic, puts your organization in a negative light that it would rather not be seen in. Regular program reminders are necessary to keep this segment of your workforce from slipping into these dangerous or embarrassing driving habits. These reminders can come in the form of tailgate safety meetings, flyers, posters, or emails outlining safe driving tips, monthly accident statistics, or the consequences of accumulating too many points in a company points program.

Adjust and Persist
The challenges that come with managing a transportation safety program never end. A successful program is defined by adjustments and persistence. The vehicles, roads, and complex world of human behavior can make workplace driving a sometimes murky safety area to navigate. Embrace the ever-changing aspect of your role as safety manager, do your best to track shortcomings, and make adjustments. Make program decisions based on solid statistics, but don’t forget to consider the feedback from the employees behind the wheel.

An organization’s safety professional often has a balancing act of responsibility with less than prominent authority in this area, so rely on your human resources staff and your fleet managers for help while also reminding upper management and those in control of budgets of how much is saved by a working preventative safety approach as opposed to "mop up and go" programs. Your attitude and willingness to help (even without full authority) will elevate your safety efforts and improve your bottom line. Few programs have as much destructive potential for property and human loss of life as those involving driving for a living.

Keith Bilger, BS, is a Safety Consultant I for the Central Prison Healthcare Complex with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety in Raleigh, N.C., and has previous fleet management experience. He can be reached at kbilger@nc.rr.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Keith Bilger, BS, is a Safety Consultant I for the Central Prison Healthcare Complex with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at kbilger74@gmail.com.

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