Most companies in every industry agree that it’s crucial to have a safe working environment. But assessing safety and maintaining it across the board and over time can be challenging in certain types of businesses.
For instance, freight transportation outfits—the companies that hire truckers to haul food, fuel, livestock and other goods all over the country to ensure that store shelves are stocked and tanks stay full—often have a tough time keeping tabs on the behavior of drivers on the road. Are the trucks running well? Are drivers well-rested and alert? Are routes hazardous or being hit with dangerous weather? A fleet management company must find ways to answer these questions to ensure that drivers are working safely.
Instinctively, you may look at ratings provided by the U.S. Transportation Department, but these don’t seem to accurately reflect a company’s highway safety performance. According to Bloomberg, a Wells Fargo Securities study indicates no correlation between a company’s official safety scores and the number of accidents on its record. The federal scores don’t just rate accidents; they also consider things like paperwork violations. But they don’t factor in wellness considerations such as how much exercise a driver gets or the food choices she makes.
Among the 28 safety management components identified by the Federal Motor Carrier Association are driver’s training, communication between managers and drivers, on-board safety monitoring, fatigue management (hours driven versus break time) and driver health, wellness and lifestyle. These considerations are separate from vehicle maintenance and inspection issues.
Here are a few tips for improving safety in these categories:
Common sense tells you that if someone drives for too many hours without a break, he’s likely to fall asleep at the wheel or at least become drowsy and slow to respond to traffic and road hazards. Unfortunately, traditional paper logs for documenting driving time and breaks make it easy for drivers to make mistakes or even intentionally fudge the records to wedge in more distance and improve performance. But safety suffers in this situation.
To improve the accuracy of driver logs and remove this burden from drivers, consider installing an EOBR (Electronic On-Board Recorder) on each vehicle. This device automatically records drive time; some will even alert drivers to stop when they’ve been on the road for too long. This device can also help spot problems on the road and notify drivers of other problematic issues.
When a vehicle is on the road, managers can’t easily determine how it’s operating and what condition it’s in unless the driver phones in with a problem. But it’s not too hard in most cases to give the truck a checkup when it stops at the warehouse or hub. Make a point of adding a routine check to these stops. Doing the check when products are being loaded or unloaded means this important safety process can get done without incurring extra down time.
Forgetting about the importance of exercise is often easy when you’re sitting in a truck all day. It’s also tempting to stop at fast food places instead of choosing wholesome food. After all, eating in a sit-down restaurant or walking a mile or two takes time, and most drivers want to complete deliveries as fast as possible. But making smart food choices and fitting in daily exercise is a matter of good health and safe driving.
Consider starting an employee education program to remind drivers that bad habits like smoking and overeating can negatively affect their professional performance. You can also encourage healthier behavior to improve safety by offering specific ideas for healthy ways to eat and exercise on the road.
The safety of long-distance truck drivers is ultimately up to more than just the drivers themselves. Trucking companies need to ensure certain health and safety measures are observed throughout all phases of travel. It’s a natural inclination to want to accomplish as much as possible for the least amount of money, but the safety of individual truckers and others on the roadway is too crucial to be relegated to a secondary concern.
Danielle is a student of the Kelley School of Business, majoring in marketing and supply chain management. In her relatively short time dealing with operations and logistics, she’s witnessed far too many accidents and seen the effects of unhealthy driver lifestyles. By raising awareness of the issues that lead to these problems, she hopes to help decrease truck driver safety performance over time.