Trucker Deaths at Record Levels: A Completely Avoidable Tragedy

Driving a heavy-duty truck remains one of the nation’s deadliest occupations, "with on-the-job deaths of truckers setting a record in 2017," reported. That year, 840 truckers lost their lives on the job, 6.6 percent more than the 786 reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2016. The number of heavy-duty trucking deaths has risen by 25 percent since 2011.

The article identified several common causes of driver deaths: distracted driving, excessive speed, and lack of seat belt use. Deaths from each one are completely avoidable. The common thread is poor decision-making and behaviors. With that in mind, who can best prevent these tragedies—the individual, his/her employer, or the government?

It's not the government. While laws and enforcement are critical deterrents, behavior is the key to safe outcomes. You can have all the laws you want, but at the end of the day, safety is about making the right decision, even when no one is looking. Speeding is a choice. The decision not to wear seat belts is a choice. The decision to drive while distracted is choice.

When it comes to responsibility for safe outcomes, both the company and the driver are in the best position to reduce deaths while behind the wheel. This boils down to creating a culture where accountability is a non-negotiable core value. If behavior is the key to safe outcomes, then accountability is the key ingredient to driving acceptable behaviors. Accountability is an overused and poorly defined term. We need to think about two distinct types of accountability—individual and organizational. If both types are woven into a company's DNA, excellent safety outcomes are more likely.

Individual Accountability
In a culture where individual accountability exists, employees govern themselves. They own their behaviors, which means putting the phone down, controlling their speed, and buckling up. When employees are accountable for safety, they are self-aware. They govern themselves. The individual employee always is in the best position to prevent harm. Watch for signs that individual employees may lack the accountability to operate safely:

  • They pass the buck to another person. It's never their fault.
  • They know the correct process but elect to circumvent it.
  • They do not fully understand how to perform a task but make no effort to seek clarification.

These individuals take shortcuts. The problem with shortcuts is that they work. Until tragedy strikes. The employees text and drive. Because they've not had an accident, they conclude that it is safe. It's not safe. These employees are simply lucky, and their day of reckoning will come.

Organizational Accountability
In a company where organizational accountability exists, people have an unconditional respect for process. Employees are well trained, and rule violations are strictly enforced. Accountable organizations are committed to continuous improvement. They realize that safety is a journey with no finish line. Where organizational accountability is lacking, the following will be evident:

  • The company accepts bad behavior and tolerates excuses. Over time, the employers learn who is operating recklessly, who is not using seat belts, who is behaving badly. Yet they do nothing about it. They may look the other way, especially for "productive" or favored employees. In short, the company enables poor individual behavior.
  • Processes and expectations are not clear. Employees are not properly trained. There is no single set of best practices to follow. Absent a process-driven environment, employees are more likely to improvise, thus increasing the risk of making the wrong decision.
  • Demands are not reasonable. There is an overt or tacit understanding that productivity trumps safety. The company does not recognize safety as a non-negotiable core value. A mentality exists to "do whatever it takes to get the job done," even at the expense of safety.

If individual and organizational accountability are tightly woven into a company's DNA, safety failures are reduced. Employees and those around them return home safely each night. This happens by creating a non-negotiable culture of accountability where excellent behaviors are recognized and employees are weeded out if they are unable to correct their poor behaviors.

Brian Fielkow is the CEO of Jetco Delivery, Inc.,

Posted on Jan 30, 2019