Fleet Safety: Eight key elements can prove effective

By Dennis Loy, Marsh Risk Consulting

“A wildfire started yesterday in the San Pasqual Valley after a swarm of bees caused a driver to crash his rendering truck filled with rotting chicken.”
San Diego Union-Tribune, July 10, 2007

“A Freightliner truck hauling a Wilson trailer of hogs went off a county road and into a ditch Monday morning, leaving the driver mostly unharmed but killing 70 hogs on board.”
Albert Lea Tribune, Minnesota, August 21, 2007

These two recent news leads reaffirm that the rendering and livestock industries are not immune to fleet accidents. Keeping drivers safe and reducing or eliminating loss of equipment and product is imperative to the success of any operation. In consulting with over 30 fleets in my present position, I have found eight key elements to effective driver safety programs. Some successful programs have fewer key components, while others have more. Clearly there is no cookie cutter solution to a safety problem; however, when the following programs are included in the culture of an organization, there are fewer accidents, less severe crashes, fewer injuries, and fewer cargo problems.

Driver Handbook

Just as it is difficult for a motorist to transverse an unknown area without a map, commercial drivers will find it difficult to understand their role within an organization without a handbook. From childhood, we’ve questioned our boundaries, the rules, and the range of our responsibility in everyday life. Drivers need to know what they can and can’t do, as well as what is expected in the daily scope of their jobs. This is particularly important in the era of driver shortage that has beset the industry.

Handbooks should be up to date. (I have seen some manuals that dated back to the early 1980s and consist of photocopies of photocopies that were photocopied one more time and put into a used binder.) The driver must know the policies are real and have the support of senior management. To further emphasize this point, encourage the president to sign and date the foreword or preface of the handbook indicating the company’s position as it affects the driver.

The handbook should reflect the company’s position on prescription use, equipment abuse, parking, professional conduct, motor vehicle record criteria, attire, substance abuse, and so on.

Standard Operating Procedures

Like drivers, office personnel should understand the scope of their jobs and how their decisions impact operations and drivers. While training often focuses on the onboarding of operations staff, other departments should be briefed on driver hiring standards, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, accident or injury reporting procedures, the company’s dispatch procedures as it reflects demands of shippers and consignees, and the company’s position on allowing the driver to have time at home with family and friends.

This standard operating procedure manual need not be as thick as a parts catalog at an auto store, but it should reflect the culture of the organization so employees understand their role and the impact their decisions have on other departments, particularly drivers.

Company Autobiography

This is an opportunity for the safety manager to toot his own horn (no pun intended). When insurance companies ask how good a company is, I recommend that the fleet safety professional prepare a three- to five-page document describing what the organization does to effectively manage risks and prevent accidents.

I suggest a format similar to an underwriting reporting that addresses the following topics:
• The number of tractors and trailers that are owned or leased;
• The number of company drivers, union/non-union employees, and owner/operators;
• The company’s overall accident frequency, DOT and DOT-preventable frequency;
• The number of drivers who were involved in lost-time injuries;
• Total number of days away from the job assignment;
• Driver recognition and incentive programs;
• Accident investigation programs;
• Maintenance and inspection systems;
• Compliance programs;
• Driver evaluation and counseling activities;
• The company’s screening, hiring, onboarding, training, and retraining programs;
• Achievement awards the company has received from state or national trade associations; and
• Most importantly, management’s commitment to risk and safety management and a description of accountability systems and programs.

Share this report not only with insurance professionals, but with the company’s marketing department. This will help them promote the organization when selling to new customers.

Measurement Systems

Understand how the company’s fleet is performing. Good safety directors know their accident frequency as well as golfers know their handicap or anglers know the weight of their last largemouth.

There need not be a lot of energy, calculations, and computer reports to identify a company’s losses; in fact, the “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method is by far the best. An executive summary reflecting the accident information described above would suffice. If greater detail is needed, charts and graphs can illustrate particular types of accidents. This may encourage new driver training or re-engineering the driver’s equipment or work environment to avoid future losses.

Meaningful data is essential for risk and safety planning and implementing corrective action. Data should also be kept for hours-of-service violations and log falsification.

Early Return to Work Policy

Much has been written about workers’ compensation during the last few years, but very few companies aggressively focus on the problem. A colleague used to become very irritated when drivers would phone and say they had been injured and could not drive. He nicknamed this, “Dialing for Dollars.”

In all seriousness though, this label was quite appropriate. Too often the doctor treating the driver makes it clear the individual is “unable to drive.” However, some of the best-run safety departments employ an aggressive early return to work program. Two of the basic elements of an effective return to work program are:
• Assigning a coordinator to oversee all transitional work; and
• Securing a preferred medical provider.

Next, mandate a frequent contact program where the coordinator, the driver’s dispatcher, and perhaps the safety professional stay in touch with the employee from the moment the injury occurs until sufficient medical data is known to determine what the driver can physically do. There is no set time frame for this; generally, about a week of daily contact will provide enough objective data to determine the next steps.

The goal in contacting the driver is not to harass, or to discover a fraudulent claim, but to show that the employer is concerned about the health and well-being of its employees. Some companies even send get well cards to the driver’s home within hours of the injury.

The last element of a return to work program is a transitional duty position, which must be available immediately. Do not assume the driver is incapacitated when the words “work comp injury” are uttered. Have other worthwhile tasks available at the plant to keep the employee close to the employer. Sit down and brainstorm with some of the company’s better drivers, mechanics, and dispatchers to develop a list of tasks the injured driver can do around the facility.

The most obvious are filing, painting, and yard checks. Some firms lend drivers to United Way, Boys Club, or a school system where the driver feels wanted and appreciated, a move which also gains the company recognition in the community for its charitable work. Be creative in finding other work for employees to do – don’t let them sit home and “Dial for Dollars.”

Operations is the Owner

This may be the greatest challenge for a safety professional. After an accident, management will often ask the safety department what happened. While the safety department may communicate the facts, management must realize that decisions made in operations, sales, or maintenance may have contributed to the loss.

Outstanding companies have operations personnel obtain information from the driver involved in an accident, or have a conversation with the driver, dispatch, and safety. It takes a great amount of time, careful thinking, and leadership for operations to realize they own losses, and top management must create a culture that promotes this concept. A measurement system, as described earlier, may help the safety director. If a fleet manager or dispatcher is responsible for a pool of drivers within a region, and that region has more accidents than others, measurement tools can help an organization focus on continuous improvement.

Orchestra Leader

The safety director must pull the company together. Just as the frenzied orchestra leader becomes energized when listening to his instruments, the safety director must pull all the departments together to support the company’s programs. The orchestra leader may have to point at a particular department to pull a little harder or encourage another area to slow down.

It is important that the safety director know what is going on in all corners of the organization. Has recruiting changed its standard? Is the sales department securing loads from a company that has docks that are unsafe for drivers? Are loads being picked up that require placards and have drivers been trained in hazardous material transportation? Are drivers provided with tractors that make entry and egress difficult, causing a large number of falls from the cab?

Driver Involvement

Another key element is using drivers to solve problems. As safety professionals in fixed-site locations have learned, production employees can help design tools for manufacturing. Employees can help redesign their workplace lighting or even ventilating systems. Even though drivers may not be near the office to provide input, a means of offering suggestions should be readily available to them. Companies can improve their safety record by bringing drivers into the office to participate in accident review boards, safety committees, and training programs.

Promoting driver involvement meets a basic human need. Most companies meet the most basic needs of the driver, since paychecks help provide food and shelter. As we climb the hierarchy, management must look at safety needs as well. Help the driver avoid hazards; going further up the hierarchy in terms of social needs, promote involvement to satisfy the needs of belonging, acceptance, recognition, and self-esteem. Review committees, training programs, and safety committees can fulfill those needs and help create an outstanding safety record.


The eight key elements are the basis of practical loss prevention tools, and the extent to which they can be integrated into most fleets is the extent to which a fleet can develop a good safety record, reduce workers’ compensation claims, and reduce or eliminate loss of equipment and product.

Dennis Loy is senior vice president and manager of Fleet Safety Services at Marsh Risk Consulting. Prior to joining Marsh, Loy was employed for 13 years by a major motor carrier in a variety of safety and loss prevention management positions. Loy has also been a defensive driving instructor and driver education program coordinator for a regional technical college and public school system.

October 2007 RENDER | back