By: Steve Vaughn, National Director of Field Operations, HELP Inc.
All it takes is one crash. One crash to increase your insurance premiums, lead to possible civil action against your company, or adversely affect your ISS score. And if you have multiple crashes, you could find yourself labeled as an unsafe carrier, placing your business at risk.
While it is difficult to avoid all crashes — since some are not the truck driver’s fault — there are many things you can avoid through a multi-pronged effort to maximize safety. Such an approach can go a long way toward ensuring your fleet operates in a safe manner.
Below are four key elements of a comprehensive safety plan. While some might seem like common sense, it can’t hurt to look at your safety strategy from time to time to make sure you’re doing all you can to mitigate unnecessary risks.
- Bring on a safety manager. Adding a safety management professional to your staff is a good place to start a serious safety program. Safety managers should be responsible for ensuring trucks are safe and operating in good condition before they leave the terminal.
Along with equipment specialists, safety managers can verify vehicles receive necessary maintenance and service. They can also ensure drivers are receiving the proper training so mechanical violations can be detected. Failure to do this could result in delays, on-highway incidents or a truck being placed out of service by state enforcement inspectors.
- Make training part of your culture. Not every company can take on the costs of hiring a dedicated safety manager, but there’s an invaluable resource for safety right in front of you: your drivers. Make sure your drivers have the tools and training they need to keep their trucks safe. For starters, all drivers should be provided an up-to-date maintenance checklist for each vehicle. Encourage them to follow maintenance schedules to bring trucks in for both preventive and periodic service. Since their safety and livelihood is directly linked to the condition of that vehicle, it shouldn’t be difficult to convince them.
Training should also cover the proper way to complete pre- and post-trip inspections — and yearly “training” is simply not enough. Taking these actions on a regular basis needs to become almost second-nature to your drivers. Thus, training must be an ongoing effort with near-daily reminders to reinforce your safety culture. The more you train the better, because repetition reinforces behavior so that it becomes almost automatic.
- Use positive reinforcement. Driving can be a stressful job. It will go a long way if you find ways to show appreciation and encouragement to your fleet drivers. Little things can have a positive impact – you could try leaving a friendly, positive safety message on the driver’s door, mirror or dashboard. (For example: “Be safe out there — you’re important to us! Don’t forget to do a last-minute check before you roll out.”) It’s an easy way to thank drivers for the good work they’re doing and remind them about safe driving practices at the same time. If you can, consider periodic rewards for adherence to safety procedures.
Some fleets also hold safety day events, encouraging drivers to bring their family members so they too can learn what the fleet is doing to ensure the safety of their loved ones. Everyone wants drivers to come home safely, and involving drivers’ families helps emphasize the importance of safe driving practices.
- Put technology to work. The final piece of a comprehensive safety program is the way the vehicle is equipped. Do your trucks have the best equipment and tools to enhance safety? If you don’t already have them, consider options such as lane departure warnings, electronic roll stability systems, collision mitigation systems and other safety technologies to enhance safety. If your vehicles already have these features, add them to periodic maintenance checks to be certain they’re functioned properly. As the fleet owner, it’s imperative that you stay updated on the latest innovations. It can’t hurt to attend a convention or exhibition from time to time to check out new safety tools. At the very least, peruse industry periodicals and websites to keep abreast of products or truck features that could make your safety arsenal even stronger.
A strong, ongoing commitment to bolstering safety is the driving force behind every safe fleet. Take safety seriously, and you’ll see the benefits.