The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the average cost to employers for an on-the-job vehicle crash is $16,500. If the accident results in an injury (or worse, a fatality), employers could be responsible for as much as $500,000 or more.
While there’s little argument that companies need an effective fleet safety policy to protect employees and the company’s bottom line, the operative term to keep in mind is “effective.” Simply having a written policy does not mean that the policy works to reduce accidents and other costly driving violations.
How can fleets ensure the effectiveness of their safety policies? Keep these seven keys in mind when crafting the policy:
Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics, a Newark, Del.-based driver training firm, recommends that those charged with drafting a fleet safety policy should begin the process by defining the big picture.
“It helps to first create a mission statement, which then becomes your guide throughout the entire policy development process,” Liggio said. “What components should be covered in the mission statement? Include goals such as protecting hard assets, good stewardship of capital, keeping employees safe, and morale high and productive.”
“Many companies will do ‘window dressing’ at the top, where they’ll say safety is important, but when push comes to shove, it’s really productivity that drives things,” said Jim Olson, vice president of safety at Republic Services, the second-largest waste and recycling company in the United States. “As an organization, what do you place the priority on? Do we pick up trash at all costs? Or do we provide ‘effective, safe customer service’? Ultimately, what is the messaging that senior management is sending about what’s acceptable and what’s not? You could find yourself sending out an unsafe truck, if you don’t have the right priorities set at a high level.”
Republic Services operates a fleet of 17,000 vehicles, including waste and recycling collection trucks and other smaller service vehicles. As Olson put it, making safety a top priority can actually be good for the bottom line.
“If we’re providing safe customer service out in the field, it means that we are where we’re supposed to be, when we’re supposed to be there – and that means we’re automatically going to be productive,” Olson said. “If we’re having accidents, then all of a sudden productivity suffers because we have downtime.”
Since drivers are on the front lines, they experience first-hand the potential hazards that would be valuable to address in the fleet safety policy.
“Ask drivers questions such as: ‘What are some of the issues you’re encountering on your route? What are you concerned about? How can we implement changes that impact you so that you can be safer?’ ” Olson advised.
The more involvement drivers have in the development of the policy, the more likely they will buy into it when the policy is in force.
“If you don’t get input from drivers and their supervisors on the front lines, then your safety policy is just going to be another empty corporate program,” Olson said. “They’ll look at the policy and think, ‘It’s just a bunch of people in an office, who don’t understand our jobs, that made this stuff up.’ ”
Olson cautioned against organizations relying on generic safety policies, especially if the company has multiple locations in varied driving environments.
“At our company, we take a global approach, with guidelines for the company as a whole. And, at the same time, we have to account for local factors, for example, our trucks in downtown Chicago operate in entirely different conditions than in rural Iowa,” Olson said. “The hazards are different. Tight quarters in cities and open rural roads require a different approach. A policy must encompass those differences.”
Certain guidelines, however, should remain constant across all company locations, according to Liggio of Driving Dynamics.
“The authors of the policy may feel that it’s best for corrective actions to be initiated at the local level and therefore write the policy to ’empower’ the local senior manager to apply remediation within some broad guidelines,” he said. “But, this approach could put employers in jeopardy of defending lawsuits from employees for discriminatory practices.”
Liggio illustrated this point with an example of two drivers who work in different parts of the country and have incurred the same number of speeding tickets.
“The manager of the first driver makes the individual take an online course regarding managing time and speed, while the other driver receives a written warning from his manager that if he gets one more moving violation, he’ll be fired. Later, both get another speeding ticket. Again, the first driver is assigned another online course,” Liggio said. “The second driver’s position is terminated. That can be construed as discrimination, with legal ramifications for the employer.”
Keep information brief. “No one will retain the information contained in a 12-page document,” Liggio said. “So, to supplement the actual policy, see if you can make a ‘flash card’ with all the salient information that an employee driver needs. If you can do this, you’ve done a great job and your drivers will know precisely what’s most important regarding the safety policy.”
Regular policy reviews are important as a safety best practice. “After the initial policy distribution, send out section reviews on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly. This makes the policy easy to digest and easy to remember, keeping everyone mindful of the employer’s focus on safety,” Liggio noted.
“Smart employers are now making safety everyone’s job and it becomes part of annual employee performance reviews (with potential rewards for achieving certain safety benchmarks), which builds a positive culture of safety within the organization,” Liggio said. “In many instances, companies that promote this culture of safety find that it actually translates into additional revenue opportunities for them as their customers see them as valued members of the business community and, as a result, are more inclined to seek out their services or products.”
The bottom line: A fleet safety policy that senior management supports and employees at all levels embrace is not only good for protecting workers, it’s good for business as well.