Fleet Management Best Practices – Part 5: Safety and Risk Management
By Steve Saltzgiver, RTA Fleet Success Ambassador
To this point, we have laid the foundation of several fleet management best practices including, vehicle acquisition and disposal, vehicle operation management, vehicle utilization management, vehicle maintenance and repair practices, and pre-trip and post-trip inspections. The topic for this week’s blog will discuss fleet safety and risk management administration associated with establishing and overseeing a comprehensive safety and risk management program that ensures safety and mitigates liability.
There are many crucial responsibilities required for complete safety and risk management pertaining to a fleet operation, but we will touch on the top criterion. This section will include the following key best management practices:
- Fleet comprehensive safety plan
- Fleet risk assessment and operational review process
- Fleet safety policies, procedures, and work instructions
- Fleet vehicle safety and regulatory compliance
- Fleet shop and supplier safety management
- Fleet safety data capture, analysis, benchmarking, and reporting
- Fleet employee safety training programs
- Fleet safety cultural reinforcement and continuous improvement
FLEET COMPREHENSIVE SAFETY PLAN
As with all important programs, a detailed safety plan must be developed to serve as a roadmap to establish defined policies and procedures; defined goals and objectives; set up safety committees; define data inputs versus outcomes; use data analytics; and other strategic tools to drive greater safety awareness throughout one’s organization. Developing a comprehensive safety plan is a collaborative process and must include key stakeholders. The primary stakeholders must be sponsored by Senior Management, Agency heads, and Risk Management. Without a commitment from organizational leadership, it’s nearly impossible to establish and enforce a culture of safety. The comprehensive safety plan must be a subset of the organization’s high-level strategic plan, which defines the roadmap to success.
Fleet Safety Committee
Every fleet safety plan must include a fleet safety committee which is comprised of key stakeholders who will be impacted by the plan and must have a voice in the outcome. A typical fleet safety committee includes a representative from senior leadership, risk management, fleet management, large department, and small department heads, support staff from procurement, union representatives (if applicable), and the budget and finance teams. The facilitation (i.e., Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, etc.) of the quarterly fleet safety committee meetings can either be led solely by senior leadership or may be rotated annually. The key role of the safety committee is to promulgate standard policies and procedures that will impact employees of the organization. The committee should be governed by “Robert’s Rules of Order” and an assigned staff member should take and distribute written minutes describing the actions, assignments, and outcomes of the meetings.
Where do you start?
If you’ve never established a safety committee (or any committee for that matter), a good place to start is to set up a “charter” to outline and define the committee’s objectives and future responsibilities. A typical charter is a working document that defines the committee’s purpose, mission, vision, goals[i], objectives, representatives, duties, voting procedures, quorum makeup, reporting frequency, etc.
Accident Review Committee
A companion body or group who is an adjunct to the safety committee is the “Accident Review Committee (ARC) or Board (ARB)”. An ARB is a group of assigned employees whose task is to review every vehicle accident and/or incident to determine fault by examining key root causes. The industry best practice for accident determination (i.e., preventable, versus non-preventable) for an ARB is using the principles laid out by the National Safety Council (NSC). The NSC is a 100-year-old non-profit advocate dedicated to providing training and safety resources both in the workplace and on the roadways.
The NCS publishes several safety manuals as tools to assist organizations in reviewing and assessing whether an accident or incident is preventable or non-preventable. For professional drivers, the bar is set very high as to whether an accident is preventable. The thought behind this high threshold is professional drivers operate vehicles for a living and possess both years of experience and training necessary to avoid and prevent at-fault accidents. Lastly, the establishment of an ARB would typically follow the same charter principles described in setting up a safety committee.
Establishing Safety Goals and Objectives
Once the organizational structures have been implemented the next course of action is to begin assembling the safety plan replete with detailed goals and objectives based on the available data. In addition to the available data, the organization must begin to define the critical few metrics it will use to measure success toward continuous improvement. There are a multitude of standard industry metrics that can be deployed to measure a safe operation. Some of the more common safety metrics are listed below:
- Miles traveled between accidents
- Accidents per million miles traveled
- Ratio of preventable versus non-preventable accidents
FLEET RISK ASSESSMENT AND OPERATIONAL REVIEW PROCESS
What is Risk Definition in Safety?
What is Risk? When we refer to risk in relation to occupational safety and health the most used definition is “risk is the likelihood that a person may be harmed or suffers adverse health effects if exposed to a hazard.”
We then define Risk Management (one of the Four Pillars of Fleet Success) as the proactive process of identifying, assessing, and controlling the threats to your organization and stakeholders.
Fleet operations are one of the few industries where you must deal with the risk of death each day. You make decisions daily that force you to prioritize costs and lives. Unfortunately, I experienced several examples of this when managing fleets. There was one instance where a driver, who was texting and driving, hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk. It resulted in a $25-million lawsuit. Likewise, another issue occurred when shop personnel noted that the tires were worn on a large delivery truck during preventative maintenance services. The tires were never replaced, and that truck was later involved in a fatal accident during a winter storm.
There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to Risk Management, which we define as the proactive process of identifying, assessing, and controlling the threats to your organization and stakeholders. Risk Management is one of the few areas where implementing best practices cannot always be measured. You don’t know what you are preventing or what could have happened by continuous improvements, but it is essential to your fleet’s success.
The key to Risk Management is the second word in the above definition: proactive. To keep your fleet employees safe and eliminate as many risks as possible, it’s essential to be proactive. This allows you to identify, assess, and determine how big of an impact a threat is to your operation and its people.
FLEET SAFETY POLICIES, PROCEDURES, AND WORK INSTRUCTIONS
Once you identify your risks, you need to put policies and procedures in place to reduce these threats. These don’t have to be expensive, in-depth plans. Here’s an example we can all probably relate to. How many accidents a year take place in your own parking lot? It’s OK to admit it—we’re all embarrassed to admit how many collisions occur between our own vehicles backing out of parking spots. Well, there is an easy solution. Put a policy in place saying all vehicles must be backed into spots so they can be pulled out going forward, reducing the number of assets backing into each other. Will this completely eliminate the problem? No. But it will certainly help you mitigate it. The scary thing—and the part that’s hard for us to wrap our heads around—is that you don’t always know what your actions are going to prevent. You don’t know how serious an accident could have been that you took action to avoid it. You don’t know how badly injured a person could have been if you didn’t put certain safety processes in place. But you can take solace in that you prevented worst-case scenarios from happening.
When an accident or an injury occurs at your operation, do you have SOPs (standard operating procedures) in place? A comprehensive set of policies and procedures defining each aspect of safety and risk [approved by the safety committee] related to fleet management can save organizations from potential litigation. A safety incident happens, and the reaction is brainstorming or holding a post-accident debrief on ways to avoid having the incident occur again. Fingers get pointed out about what went wrong. If it is preventable, someone most likely loses their job based on severity, thinking it’s more of a personnel issue as opposed to an organizational issue. A lot of organizations wait until something severe happens before they adjust to mitigate risks within their organization.
You can be so busy reacting to problems that you might not think that you have time to put policies in place to stop preventable incidents from occurring. With a lot of outside influences affecting your daily work routines, we know that some accidents might be unavoidable no matter how many safety precautions you establish. But there are other areas where it can pay off (you obviously won’t always know the pay-off) to be proactive: preventative maintenance and vehicle inspections.
FLEET VEHICLE SAFETY AND REGULATORY COMPLIANCE
PMs and Inspections
Ron Turley, RTA’s founder, thought that one hour of preventative maintenance could save three to eight hours of work later. He believed it was crucial to perform routine services like oil changes, fluid checks, and visual inspections to help avoid larger problems later. This can allow your team to find issues while they are small before they become bigger problems that need costly repairs and longer downtime for vehicles.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Spend a little bit of time now and keep your vehicles on the roads later. Not to mention, it can help trim your road call expenses and reduce the number of unscheduled maintenance tasks that can lead to overtime for your technicians and costly purchases of parts that need to be delivered ASAP.
However, it can take time to set up, and it requires buy-in from your staff and your drivers. First, you need to determine what services need to be performed on each vehicle and at what intervals. This requires you to keep an updated odometer on each asset and plan to make sure the vehicle will be brought into the shop when it’s due for services. Then you need to schedule your technicians accordingly to make sure they are available to perform the services so the vehicles can get back on the road quickly. You also need your drivers to buy into this to make sure they bring the vehicles into the shop. This can be a challenge, especially for truck drivers who need to be on the road to make money. They might be tempted to skip services to instead keep taking loads and stay on their routes.
Drivers may also try to skip pre-trip vehicle inspections. These are even easier than PM services. They take about 15 minutes, and it ensures that your vehicle is safe to be on the road for your route. Finding something during one of these inspections can prevent a driver from being down for hours, so the small-time investment is worth it. A 2020 report from the American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI) found that it costs a company $1.65 per mile on average to operate a vehicle, with about $0.69 directly attributed to the driver’s salary and benefits. With the average miles operated annually of over 90,000 miles per unit, the cost associated with downtime can be significant.
Performing vehicle inspections also helps the driver avoid a CSA violation. If a driver is pulled over, the Department of Transportation will look through the inspection, and if it’s not completed, it will go against the driver. Yet, some drivers still don’t want to take the time to complete them. One of the biggest challenges is enforcing that drivers properly complete their required daily inspections. But supervisors can use a simple technique called, “walk-around” inspections to grade and coach employees in performing quality checks.
Why Walk-Arounds Are Important?
While managing a city fleet, I randomly performed walk-around inspections to help stress the importance of drivers performing a quality DVIR. One time, as I reviewed a walk-around alongside a dump truck driver, I lifted the hood and found a bird’s nest with three small blue eggs, perched atop the radiator.
While having a bird’s nest under the hood isn’t exactly a compliance issue, it showed there was a lapse in quality where the driver who performed the [DVIR] inspection – obviously “pencil-whipped” the inspection [not lifting the hood] – marking the DVIR form complete without checking required items like steering, engine condition, hoses, belts, and fluid levels found under the hood. This situation gave me the perfect opportunity to coach the driver on the importance of performing a quality DVIR. It’s examples like these and countless others that demonstrate how important it is for fleet managers to take ownership of the DVIR compliance program and work closely with the operation to help stress—and train drivers in—the importance of daily inspections.
Your operation can encourage drivers to do inspections by making it easier for them to complete. Since each vehicle model and class vary and are spec’d differently, creating customized inspection forms for your specific vehicles can make the inspections even faster to complete as they are in the right order and only include elements on your fleet vehicles, letting them avoid having to sort through features that aren’t on your assets.
You can also invest in electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (eDVIRs). These will make it easy for your drivers to complete inspections on their phone or another mobile device, and it makes their inspection available immediately without having to stop at the shop. It also lets you track if the inspections are being completed and by whom. PM program write-ups, roadside inspections, and road calls can also be a good gauge to see what is being missed on your driver inspections. Even though the latter is reactive in nature, it allows a shop to identify the issues and turn this information into a proactive program to avoid these issues in the future. If the shop has commercial vehicles on the Safer.gov site, these roadside inspection details can be accessed and downloaded to use as a tool to optimize your shop PM, repair quality, and technician training processes. In addition to looking for issues in the vehicle, management must also include a regular cadence of quality control reviews (QCR) to assess each technician’s work. These QCR results can be shared and discussed during supervisor/technician one-on-ones and periodic evaluations, along with action plans to improve performance. Moreover, management must create a QCR cadence to periodically visit and inspect their supplier’s work at least quarterly. Nothing improves quality like acting to “inspect what you expect”.
Quality Control Inspection Process
I often use the VMRS “Repair Priority” in the form of a report to review how work hits the shop. This report segments shop repairs by Scheduled, Unscheduled, and Emergency. The rule of thumb is 60–80% of the shop repairs should be scheduled versus the other two categories. Following this guide can save you money, as scheduled repairs can cost much less than unscheduled fixes. Another report fleet managers want to run is the VMRS “Reason for Repair” which categorizes repairs by various root causes below:
- Consumption, Fuel
- Consumption, Oil
- Driver’s Report
- Inspection, Routine
- Preventative Maintenance
- Road Call
Understanding the reason for the repairs allows fleet managers to make critical changes to their inspection programs (DVIR, PM, PdM, QCRs, Special campaigns, etc.) to implement measures to increase quality and compliance and design effective training and communication programs.
There is nothing worse than thinking you are compliant with all the rules and regulations out there just to go through an audit and find out how many holes you may have in your policies and procedures. Something small can cause a lot of problems down the road. In trucking, all out-of-service (OOS) inspections on the road need proof of repair documented before that vehicle is supposed to be back on the road.
FLEET SAFETY DATA CAPTURE, ANALYSIS, BENCHMARKING, AND REPORTING
Using the Latest Safety Technology
Mitigating risk is a critical component of fleet success, and each fleet professional must take the time to stay abreast of current laws and requirements for the vehicles they manage. Programs like NAFA and others offer individual certificates in Risk Management, along with a complete curriculum called the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) program. Moreover, as a fleet management professional, one of your most important responsibilities is to prevent your organization’s exposure to liability, which is the highest single cost in fleet management.
Currently, there are countless options for increasing the safety of your operation through technology. First and foremost is employing a Fleet Management Information System capable of myriad integrations to capture and analyze data. Once data is captured from several disparate sources it can be easily utilized to conduct routine analyses and perform benchmarking exercises to determine how effective the overall data capture is to identify problems and root causes, to mitigate risk and safety issues. We are not going to cover all technology applications in this article, but everyone should be aware of the most common technology available.
- Onboard Cameras
- Performing Random Drug Tests
- CSA/DOT Software apps
- Cell use avoidance apps
- Collision Avoidance
- Electronic Logging Devices
- Telematics and Driver Behavior and Risk Scorecards
- Software Integrations
- eDVIR (electronic driver vehicle inspection report)
- Fuel Card automation
- Accounting systems (e.g., QuickBooks, SAP, Oracle, or others)
- Tracking systems for School and shuttles
- Conduct Background and MVR (Motor Vehicle Report) Checks
- Employee Training Systems (e.g., JJ Keller, Trainual, Smith Driving, National Safety Council, etc.)
FLEET EMPLOYEE SAFETY TRAINING PROGRAMS
The next area we want to explore in reducing your risks is continuous training. This is essential to keep everyone in your shop and on the roads safe. Training can vary for every fleet and every location. While your drivers need ongoing training, the rest of your staff does, too. Your shop can be a dangerous place filled with tools and substances. It’s important to ensure everyone knows the right safety procedures (and it will keep you OSHA compliant). Set up equipment training and make sure people know how to use eye-wash stations and first-aid kits to keep your staff safe. Fleet operations can be very dangerous places, and unfortunately, accidents do occur.
Taking the right steps to identify threats and prevent these risks can help your fleet succeed. A regular cadence of safety training for every employee is a must to maintain a culture of fleet safety and compliance. This training can be something as simple as a daily 5-minute huddle with employees prior to beginning their shift to holding a required monthly safety meeting on policies, and recent safety incidents that may have taken place. Each shop should run specific plays (e.g., repair/PM quality control inspections, risk assessments, compliance inspections, etc.) to ensure safety is an ongoing part of the fleet culture. Typical employee training programs to consider:
- Vehicle Operator Training
- Defensive driver training
- 15-Passenger Van operation
- CDL license training
- Adverse weather operation
- Safe backing and Hazard avoidance
- Cargo Securement and Management
- 4×4 vehicle operation
- Towing trailers
- Shop Technician Training
- Repair systems training (e.g., ASE certifications)
- AFV/EV systems training
- VMRS Training
- FMIS training
- Five “S” shop organization training
- OSHA compliance training
- CDL license training
- Tools and diagnostic equipment use
FLEET SHOP AND SUPPLIER SAFETY MANAGEMENT
If your fleet operates an inhouse shop, this becomes the hub of your safety and risk program. A comprehensive safety program must include the use and operation of hand, pneumatic, and electrically operated tools. A routine inspection cadence must be required to inspect all tools utilized in shops. These safety training and technician programs must include the use and operation of such items as grinders, cutters, ladders, lifts, drills, impact wrenches, all portable power tools, trip hazard management (i.e., cords, air hoses, etc.), jacks and jackstands, chemical use, ropes, chains, cranes, material handling equipment, fire extinguisher use, personal protective equipment uses (e.g., safety glasses, bump caps, steel toe shoes, gloves, shields, etc.).
These shop safety programs should also extend outside of your internal shop to ensure those who maintain your equipment, like an outsource supplier, maintain safe practices. I recall an incident during my career where a vendor sent a technician to repair landing gear on a trailer and failed to properly secure the trailer. It fell on the technician and killed him at our facility.
These incidents obviously affect your operation in a very negative way and could involve your company in a lawsuit, especially if someone is injured or killed. Even if the external vendor is performing work in their shop operation, a routine safety inspection is always a good idea to ensure they use safe practices. Even though the latter may not directly impact your shop operation, it could implicate your organization in a class action suit indirectly if an accident occurs while repairing your vehicles.
FLEET SAFETY CULTURE REINFORCEMENT AND CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
Having the right tools, education, and training aids in place as described above -and using committees, policies, and procedures – technology is critical to establishing a reinforced culture of safety compliance and continuous improvement. Establishing annual goals and objectives to identify problem areas also helps to reinforce and keep employees aware of what’s important. I have found that the more interactive and memorable you can make your goals, the more they relate to each employee. Employees who can individually relate to the organization’s goals are more apt to take ownership and responsibility in seeing they are achieved.
Finally, fleet shops should keep safety as the primary aim in fleet management as everything ties into this objective. A culture of fleet safety and risk ensures that each employee comes to work and returns safely each day to their families. All these objectives ensure that a fleet organization and its stakeholders are focused on what really matters.
Let me know your thoughts. email@example.com or www.rtafleet.com
To learn how RTA’s fleet management software solution can help you improve the safety at your fleet, schedule a demo today with our Sales team!
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