Are your practices the best?

Proud of your operation’s safety program? Think your driver hiring practices are “best in class”? Believe you train them as well as anyone else? Place a high priority on meticulously maintained equipment?

Most trucking executives would respond “you bet” to all of these questions. And who could argue? Perhaps researchers with the Supply Chain Management Center at the University of Maryland’s R.H. Smith School of Business. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration retained the center to conduct several studies examining the motor carrier industry broadly on safety issues. Over the past three years, the center’s researchers have profiled the major industry segments, how they operate and how they perform from a safety perspective.

The latest work takes researchers down a different path. With FMCSA’s endorsement, researchers queried the management of 148 of the safest carriers to find the common elements in their safety programs and attitudes. The current report represents some fairly raw benchmarking data, but it’s a good place to start if you are striving to improve your fleet’s safety program.

The questionnaire completed by the 148 carriers first asked carriers about overall attitudes and their willingness to create an open dialogue about safety in their companies. One attitude that emerged was that “Companies consider safety regulations to be critical in satisfying their highway safety objectives, but some may feel that complying with safety regulations does not completely satisfy safety objectives,” researchers found. “To that end, cost is not a driving factor in making safety decisions. Managers also feel strongly that customer service, employee relations, and highway safety performance go hand-in hand.”

So, it’s clear that safe fleets see safety as something that pays off in the end regardless of direct costs. It’s also clear they see safety as impossible unless the company culture offers a truly comfortable and supportive environment. Listening to employees’ safety concerns is critical. For example, these safe fleets encourage drivers who feel fatigued to refuse dispatches.

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Another item that’s critical to success is hiring a driver only after reviewing the applicant’s safety record. This includes knowing whether he had any chargeable crashes or speeding violations, was dismissed for drug or alcohol violations and has good recommendations from prior employers. The best fleets road test the driver and look at his traffic record, setting a maximum acceptable number for moving violations and crashes. Drivers must also be “honest, reliable and self-disciplined” – able to perform without constant supervision. Researchers found these factors to be more important than age and training to the largest carriers in the survey, suggesting that what the best fleets really insist on is appropriate temperament as proven by his safety and enforcement statistics.

On-road training and evaluation is considered superior to classroom safety work by the best fleets. Pre-service and in-service training are considered to be strategic investments. The “overwhelming emphasis” in the training is on the topics dealing with the regulatory environment, indicating that knowing and obeying the rules actually works in improving a fleet’s record. Most safe fleets do their own training rather than outsourcing it. At these fleets, company training directors have a “strong influence over safety management decisions,” and employees respect that fact. Safer drivers get rewarded at the best fleets. But disciplining and training drivers who make mistakes was found to be even more important than positive reinforcement.

Good equipment maintenance is also part of these best cultures in trucking. These folks say cost must be a non-issue in keeping vehicles defect-free. Ninety percent of respondents said running defect-free equipment is the most important thing they can do for safety.

The benchmarking of the safest carriers continues. The next FMCSA-sponsored report from the Supply Chain Management Center will take the work a step further, interviewing executives at those safe carriers about the reasoning that went into the choice of specific standards and policies in hiring, training, maintenance and so on.