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Profitable Trucking Companies Have Strong Safety Cultures – Part II

Welcome to Part II of our series on safety culture for trucking companies. We have covered a range of topics, from incentives to video-cam footage. What’s next? Let’s move on from generating incentives and motivational tactics to addressing accountability. What’s a trucking company to do about disciplinary policies and action?

How Fleet Managers Handle Disciplinary Policies and Action

Another way to demonstrate and maintain a successful safety culture is to hold everyone accountable for their actions and behaviors. All employees – truck drivers, supervisors, operations personnel, maintenance personnel, and others – who engage in behavior that is either unsafe or runs counter to the safety values of the fleet must be held accountable.

This is especially true for truck drivers since the roadways are their workplace and unsafe behaviors can have tragic and lasting consequences. Having a sound and progressive disciplinary policy in place, and following it consistently, provides many benefits to fleets and sends a strong message to all employees that safety is always a top priority.

It’s important to think about a progressive disciplinary system and subsequent actions to correct, and not punish, unsafe or undesirable behavior. It should be viewed as a teaching and improvement tool. Good discipline helps truck drivers, and others in your organization, to improve performance and create lasting and sustained safe behaviors.

The purpose of discipline should be, at least initially, to alert truck drivers to their actions and behaviors, and help them understand how their actions impact their own safety and the safety of others. If an educational approach doesn’t get the desired result, a progressive disciplinary system clearly identifies the next steps for fleet managers and how drivers will be held accountable. Every step in the process is progressively more serious.

Progressive discipline starts with verbal communication, moves on to a written communication or warning if the desired behavior isn’t achieved, and is followed by either a suspension or termination. Any progressive discipline program should be paired with ongoing truck driver training and coaching to provide drivers with the tools they need to improve.

Create a Crash Preventability Determination Program

Every accident is an opportunity to learn and grow. A Crash Preventability Determination Program organizes this opportunity into actionable feedback, establishing a standardized process by which each accident can be evaluated. Whether this process is conducted by a single safety director or manager or involves a committee of committed safety professionals, the goal is the same. It is to determine what, if anything, could have been done differently.

The purpose of this process is not to assign fault. In fact, it should be explicitly stated in company policy that the program is focused on whether any actions could have prevented the crash – not if the driver was at fault, but to determine if a driver was able to recognize an emerging hazard that could have been avoided.

The value of this program is the opportunity to identify and deliver progressive or remedial training to drivers involved in accidents and to share those lessons with other drivers in the fleet.

Why You Need a Crash Preventability Determination Program

Additional benefits from programs like these include:

  • Holding drivers accountable to a high standard of safety
  • Promoting fairness and transparency among drivers
  • Creating a standard by which to administer safety incentive programs
  • Developing more meaningful definitions by which to measure the effectiveness of your safety programs

Crash Preventability Determination Programs take many forms. Internally, trucking companies have developed different governance models to administer their programs. Externally, the FMCSA has also developed a program that allows carriers to ask FMCSA to make a crash preventability determination on crashes meeting specific circumstances. This FMCSA program has been used by carriers to reduce their Compliance, Safety Accountability Crash Indicator BASIC score, or to have their record noted that certain crashes were not preventable

Humans are fallible. They make mistakes in judgment and action. That’s why 90% of crashes are attributable to truck driver behavior. In addition, fleet managers know that poor driver behavior is often attributable to the casual motorists, not the actions of the professional truck driver. That’s where onboard and back-office technology can come into play.

The Importance of On-Board Safety Technologies

One of the most prominent onboard technologies is the dashcam. AI dash cams help reduce distracted driving and prevent accidents. The cameras have a windshield mount. And they use artificial intelligence to detect unsafe driving behaviors and road conditions. Once detected, the cameras notify drivers with in-cab audio and visual alerts to help drivers modify their behaviors. Companies that use dashcams, combined with frequent coaching, saw 22% fewer accidents and 56% fewer unsafe driving incidents

For a dashcam to be truly effective, consistent coaching is imperative. Simply identifying poor performance or behavior will not prevent crashes. Many truck drivers don’t recognize when they’ve done something improper.

Allowing the truck driver to review the video and present their perspective on the incident helps. They can then discuss the specifics of the situation. They can analyze why the behavior is dangerous and strategize ways to avoid it in the future. This will in turn improve driver behavior and build trust. Using the dashcam footage to reward good behavior and exonerate truck drivers post-crash can also go a long way in building trust.

Consider Back-Office Safety Technologies

Back-office technology can be helpful, too. These technologies work to consolidate and visualize data to help identify concerning trends or to reward desired behavior before a crash occurs. One technology that is quickly rising in popularity is the driver scorecard. Fleet managers use truck driver scorecards to determine who are the rising stars in their fleet.

Measuring return on investment for adopting safety technologies requires input from several parts of the organization. This is how you determine how quickly the investment will be paid back in terms of reduced crashes and safety-critical events. Fleets should work with their technology vendors to understand the ROI calculation.

In the recent past, the focus of safety programs has shifted from one-size-fits-all safety solutions and problem-specific training to using data to understand the root causes of various safety situations and challenges. The challenge is collating, analyzing, and prioritizing the tremendous amount of data that’s available.

Incorporate Data into Your Safety Culture

Data can come from sources both inside and outside your company. Sources include background screening, ongoing truck driver, vehicle and telematics, and internally generated and governmental data. The data arrives at different frequencies. And it is of different value. It all depends on the measurement. Some data is just noise and some point to critical safety issues.

Many fleet management solutions require safety managers to pore through all dashcam footage. They have better things to do. They must assess an incident and determine which are the most important behaviors to coach. Event intelligence and in-house safety teams analyze and prioritize every dashcam video within seconds of an event. This way safety managers can filter out videos that don’t represent risk.

Safety managers should focus on key performance indicators (KPI’s) to measure compliance with the safety objective being investigated. Often, the best place to start is evaluating lagging indicators to address obvious problems that could be considered “low hanging fruit.” An example here could be trends of common vehicle maintenance violations that are easily discovered through proper pre- and post-trip inspections.

As those problems are corrected, the manager can begin moving toward leading indicators. Those are used to predict emerging problems or trends. Examples of leading indicators include examining lane road performance data. Examine this data through onboard monitoring systems in real-time to identify unsafe behavior before a crash occurs.

Communication is Key to a Functioning Safety Culture

Ongoing safety communications keep the company’s safety messages and commitment to safe operations in front of drivers and company personnel. Regular safety messages on a variety of current safety topics, using any number of communication channels, is an industry best practice.

The training seeks to inform drivers about the rules of the road. Proper defensive driving techniques, company policies, and state and federal requirements play another role. Truck driver coaching attempts to address specific observed truck driver behavior deficits. Secondly, successful driver coaching may be the single most important component of developing a strong safety culture. It’s not enough to track and rank your drivers. A safety incentive or disciplinary policy, on its own. It needs a strong truck driver coaching program.

Developing a world-class safety program requires a two-pronged approach. That is why the first approach starts by recognizing that drivers are a fleet’s most important asset. Helping them to succeed begins with building a strong safety culture and, if successful, ends with improved safety outcomes. The second starts with the adoption of an integrated fleet management solution. In conclusion, this is how a successful safety culture starts and endures.

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