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Profitable Trucking Companies Create Strong Safety Cultures – Part I

Strong safety cultures are ones where every employee – from the owner to the president to a part-time worker – put safety before everything else. Every decision, from the driver hiring criteria to the technology adopted and used throughout the fleet, is made with safety in mind. When safety is the priority, great safety performance follows.

Every organization, big and small, has a unique culture, one that sets expectations and determines what behaviors are acceptable for a group, or for someone in a particular role, whether it be a truck driver or fleet manager, within the company. Companies can have good safety policies, procedures, and related training programs, but they won’t be effective if the company culture doesn’t reflect the safety beliefs and goals of its leaders.

How to Create a Strong Safety Culture

While there is no standardized approach, fleets can create a strong safety culture by first putting it in writing. Create a safety contract that everyone, regardless of their title, must sign. The safety contract includes the provision that all policies and procedures put safety at the forefront of all operational decisions.

You also want to make sure that you consistently demonstrate a commitment to safety. This starts at the top of the organization and is accomplished by empowering every person to make decisions that preserve safety, without retribution, even when it means a possible reduction in operational efficiency.

Promoting an environment that reinforces personal accountability for safety. Holding people accountable for safety is the only way to ensure safety is an organizational mission. While truck drivers are the front line for road safety, this accountability cannot be theirs alone to deal with. Fleet managers, dispatchers, load schedulers, and front back-office personnel must be held to the same standard as everyone else.

Create Incentives and Ask for Feedback

Consider incentivizing and rewarding good safety behavior and performance. Safety incentives have long been popular among fleet managers to encourage safe behaviors. These incentives include both monetary and non-monetary benefits

Foster an environment where everyone can freely raise safety issues and concerns – open door policies are a common component to successful safety programs, but in practice are often unused. An open communication environment should include multiple communication channels that allow for confidential conversations without negative consequences.

Management should also consider proactively asking for feedback on various programs and trends to encourage this communication. Consideration should be given to establishing formality to this feedback, providing a mechanism for employees at all levels – especially drivers – to have a voice in the success of the company. Evaluating a fleet safety program begins with understanding the roles and responsibilities of personnel and the safety policies of a company. They are the foundation of a fleet’s safety culture and key to good performance.

Good Incentives Lead to Great Results

Strong leaders understand which tools are best deployed to recognize and motivate behavioral change and understand when to use the carrot versus the stick. Both can be effective, but one without the other reduces the benefit of either. Furthermore, a leader whose sole focus is doling out consequences to rulebreakers is unlikely to motivate anyone to improve safety except him or herself. Therefore, a strong safety incentive program can hold tremendous value.

Safety incentive programs are good for the truck driver and the fleet. Fleets benefit through improved safety (fewer accidents) and improved CSA and Inspection Selection System scores. Programs can also provide benefits for cost-saving measures like idle time reduction or fuel efficiency improvements. These benefits can far outweigh the cost of providing the recognition and reward your truck drivers deserve.

The best way to sustain good behavior is to encourage wanted behavior by providing an incentive. Incentive programs can range from monetary bonuses for operating accident-free to those based on driver scorecards using a customizable suite of metrics designed to address unique and important safety challenges. While monetary incentive programs are the most common, many find greater success by motivating people through personal or public praise of desired behavior.

Set Up a Safety Management Program for Your Trucking Company

Another important aspect of successfully managing driver safety is to have one or more persons designated as safety leaders. Ideally, with the word safety in their titles, these individuals have clearly defined safety management roles and responsibilities. Responsibilities related to managing driver safety might include, hiring, training, ensuring ongoing qualifications, following company policies, communicating, coaching, rewards, disciplining, and others. Fleet management should also clearly and consciously define each person’s safety management-related responsibilities, and the criteria or measures against which their success will be judged.

Responsibilities should clearly define the goals, measures, and safety outcomes for safety managers. These could include consistently improving safety performance measures like injury rates, crash rates, and CSA measures and scores. When safety management roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, each person will know their part in managing driver safety outcomes, and how their success is defined.

The problem is many safety managers are not properly integrated into the management hierarchy. Trucking company executives need to make fleet safety management positions a priority. As we mentioned before, safety must be a top-down priority for trucking companies and other transportation firms.

Have Safety Policies that Reflect Your Desires as a Trucking Company

Another important component of managing truck driver safety is the policies. You must have clear, consistent safety policies on numerous driver-focused topics and programs, including regulatory compliance. Safety policies and procedures are a fleet’s playbook for reducing crashes and violations. They are also key for implementing new safety technologies and programs.

Here are safety topics you should consider:

  • Driver screening and hiring criteria
  • FMCSA driver qualifications, including medical certifications
  • FMCSA and company drug and alcohol testing
  • Driving/operating a commercial vehicle, including the use of devices and distractions
  • Electronic logging device compliance, including a policy on authorized special driving categories
  • Hours of service rules compliance
  • Proper use of driver safety assistance technologies
  • Daily vehicle inspections and safety defect reporting
  • Incident reporting, including crashes, roadside inspections, breakdowns, and traffic stops

A best practice is for fleets to create, train on, and consistently follow policies that govern all truck driver safety and compliance. These policies are important benchmarks and help set expectations for truck drivers. They are also important for all those involved in safety and compliance matters. They also keep safety and compliance managers accountable and let drivers and other employees know where they can turn for guidance and help.

The best policies and procedures are only as effective as the people to which they apply. That’s why gaining organizational buy-in and building trust among truck drivers and fleet management is key to the organization’s success.

Truck Driver Buy-In and the Safety Contract

Do you use safety pledges or contracts with fleet managers and truck drivers? The concept is to have managers and drivers sign a safety pledge that demonstrates their commitment to safety as a core value and establishes accountability.

Fleets often have truck drivers sign a document acknowledging their understanding and receipt of a driver policy manual which includes the company’s safety-related policies. A safety pledge or contract is different, it goes beyond a simple acknowledgment. It is an agreement (such as a contract) between the driver and fleet management that holds both parties accountable for safety practices.

When done sincerely and professionally, a safety contract obtains truck driver buy-in and shows truck drivers that management cares. It bears mentioning that a layer you may wish to consider adding to your safety contract is around dash cam usage. Getting dashcam buy-in can be difficult given drivers’ privacy concerns. But there are few measures more effective in creating a culture of safety than the dashcam.

Build in the benefits of dash-cam footage, such as:

  • It allows for greater transparency
  • Truck drivers stay educated on the value of safety technologies
  • It allows for greater communication

Still, it goes beyond technology. Ensure you communicate often, keep it positive, and listen to and act on driver feedback. Identify your safety “champions.” Show drivers how safety technology can advocate for them. We hope you have enjoyed Part I of our series looking at trucking company’s safety culture. Join us next time in Part II when we look at other important aspects of company safety culture.

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