Maintaining a safe and risk-free fleet operation is crucial to operating a successful business. Whether a truck fleet is small or large, minimizing driver risk and accident rates saves time, money, and even lives.
Creating, implementing, and maintaining a thorough risk management and safety program is not only a must-do for fleets today, but is the only comprehensive way to control liability issues.
A "true" fleet risk management and safety program considers the entire risk picture. According to Edward Emerick, lead safety consultant, Keller Consulting & Educational Resources, at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., companies must first take into account regulations and the best practices driven from those regulations.
"Businesses must also examine how to effectively incorporate these best practices into their operation and company culture," Emerick said. "Look at all information and requirements and put it together to see how your fleet will really work. Make it as easy as possible so it is really effective and not so intrusive your best practices are not functional. If it's cumbersome and not manageable, it won't work because those practices become only words on a paper."
Emerick stressed "true" fleet safety management includes:
- Regulatory compliance.
- Risk management.
- Loss prevention.
- Human management.
- Asset protection.
8 Key Elements for Risk Management Program
What are the key elements to a risk management program, and why are they essential best practices for a safe fleet operation?
Emerick recommended businesses implement eight risk and safety management program elements:
- Written policy.
- Program administration and accountability.
- Driver selection and review.
- Driver training and discipline.
- Drug and alcohol testing.
- Accident reporting and analysis.
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance.
Task-Driven Policies are Most Effective
Start with the written policy. Avoid thick policy manuals with lots of cumbersome language. It's just not effective. What is effective is task-driven policy.
"If the task mandated by the policy is followed, then you'll have safety covered and also meet regulatory policies," Emerick said.
He advises incorporating the following issues in writing policy:
- Program administration and accountability.
- Driver selection and review.
- Driver discipline - rewards and consequences.
- Driver training.
- Hours of Service.
- Accident reporting, investigation, and analysis.
- Required drug and alcohol testing.
- Vehicle safety equipment, inspection, and use.
"Remember to relate your policy to your operations, exposures, and hazards," Emerick said.
Hold Everyone Accountable
Next up is program administration and accountability. Everyone must be a part of the program - from executives down to the individual required to operate within the program.
"Everyone needs to be held accountable. Whether I'm working safely or being judged by accident rates, etc., it should be monitored and graded to make sure accountability is accomplished," Emerick added.
When outlining program administration and accountability, clearly define who does what, when, and how. Include titles, locations, and process detail. Ensure everyone has the appropriate knowledge level and provide an hours-of-service example.
Select the Right Drivers
The next step in the process is driver selection and review. Cover core components and ask yourself, "Am I putting the right person behind the wheel?" Remember, how you identify that individual is specific to your fleet and operation.
"You should have standards set based upon models in your fleet and organization," Emerick advised. "How do they perform well; how are they trained; are they experienced? You're making sure they meet your model and meet your minimum standards."
A driver selection and review policy should cover prevention of negligent entrustment, valid driver license (type & class) checks, MVRs on all new applicants, assessment of acceptable driving records, and a safety performance history check.
Make sure to start by assessing processes are in place and whether they are working, Emerick suggested.
Ensure Proper Training & Discipline
The next element to address in a risk management program is driver training and discipline, an extremely important step in the process, even for experienced drivers. Is the driver qualified and trained to be on the road? Initially, assess what driver training is required, including:
- Hazmat, entry-level driver, OSHA.
- Corporate responsibility - function-specific.
- Vehicle inspections.
- Double trailer operations.
- Tanker trailer loading.
- Hours of service.
- Defensive driving.
Ensure training is reoccurring and includes refresher training on all safe driving topics. The goal of refresher training should be to keep drivers aware and refocused. Retraining scheduling should be driven by accident occurrences and frequency.
Implementing a disciplinary program can be tough, and the type of program will vary, based on circumstances such as union status and driver availability.
"Discipline should be a part of the policy, but a last consequence," Emerick stated. "First, try to modify the driver behavior with retraining, mentoring, and counseling."
Importance of Drug & Alcohol Tests
Another key component to operating a "true" risk/safety management program is drug and alcohol testing. Motor carrier safety regulations must be followed strictly. If drivers do not comply, the company's response must be defined. Will driver rehabilitation be allowed or will the driver's services be terminated?
"The philosophy and mindset around drug and alcohol testing is extremely important," Emerick said. "Everyone handles it differently, but you need a clear and consistent path to where you're going."
Drug and alcohol testing policy should address the following areas:
- Pre-employment testing.
- Zero tolerance versus second chance.
- Driver drug and alcohol training.
- Supervisor training.
Report & Investigate Problems
Because every accident could lead to possible litigation, accident reporting and investigation policy is a cornerstone of any risk/safety program. Emerick recommends for each incident, investigate the root cause and use that information to enhance the safety program.
"Every accident and near-miss should be investigated," he said. "And make sure to review your policy a few times a year and assess your current methods for collecting and evaluating accident reporting and investigation."
After an accident, Emerick also advises supervisors teach drivers what to say, what to photograph, and how to gather information. Elements to consider when analyzing an accident or near-miss include information about frequency (driver/vehicle), category of event (backing/excessive speed), location, time and data, and root cause (mechanical/driver fatigue).
Inspect & Maintain Vehicles
Businesses that keep vehicle inspection and maintenance top of mind often save time and money, the foundation of this critical step in a risk and safety program. Operating safe vehicles on the highway is a must because maintenance issues are increasingly cited in vehicle crashes.
"This step has to be systematic," Emerick said. "Implement day-to-day maintenance and inspection."
Additional areas of importance include accurate recordkeeping; pre- and post-trip inspections (conducted, documented, and reported); inspections by qualified personnel; and proper documentation of repair completion.
Maintain Good Records
The final element in a risk management policy should involve recordkeeping. Motor carrier safety regulations require records be maintained for a specific period of time, which can be a very cumbersome process.
"Proper maintenance and accident records must be on file when the DOT comes in to assess a motor carrier's safety fitness," Emerick said. "The majority of time is spent looking at records, and having a systematic approach to how you can look at those records will make that process go more smoothly."
In addition, benchmarking is critical in reassessing a risk/safety policy.
"If you don't know where you started, you can't show the return on investment as you move forward," Emerick pointed out. "Or if you don't know where you started and things go bad, you don't know why it's turning worse without that base."
Paint a picture of where your business sits today regarding risk/safety, as well as where you need to be each quarter, Emerick recommended.
"Many times, executives understand numbers better than they understand safe practices or activities," Emerick concluded. "And the more common way of doing that is with hard and fast numbers."