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Designing Your Safety Program

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How do you build a safety culture in your organization? Well... it's not easy. The first step is to codify your safety expectations so that anyone in your organization can understand what safety is.

Ultimately, you need a safety program. Rule #1... it has to be written down. This article is the stuff you should be thinking about when building your fleet's safety program.

Safety is a crucial consideration for any good business owner. Whatever the nature of your business, you want to operate as efficiently as possible, which typically means creating a safe, beneficial environment for yourself and your workers. Having a safe work environment helps you retain good employees and reduce liability.

The trucking business is no different. A commercial fleet poses a significant safety risk and should demand a bigger commitment to safety. Accidents incur substantially higher costs when commercial vehicles are involved, both in property losses and personal risk to drivers and motorists. This risk increases with the size of your fleet. The road is a dangerous place, and you need to set up policies and procedures to ensure you and your employees actively protect your business from liability. A formal fleet safety program does just that. 

While it is difficult to guarantee complete safety, a good safety program is crucial for a trucking company business. It is the key to long-term success in the industry, a feature that goes beyond making sure your fleet is in peak operational condition; it also considers your staff, arguably the most important part of your operation. 

A good safety program is detailed. It should be updated regularly, and all your employees should be aware of its contents. For example, new drivers should have to go through safety orientation, and there should be updated courses for experienced drivers periodically.

There are several financial benefits to getting your safety program right:

Better rates on insurance premiums

A focus on safety will reduce the probability that one of your trucks is involved in an incident resulting in the loss of property or life. Over time this commitment will show in your loss runs and insurance companies will price your insurance according to this lower risk level.

Driver Retention

Fleets that focus on safety simply have higher driver retention rates. By offering training, coaching and exceptional safety equipment your drivers will see your commitment to them and they will commit to you.

Market Differentiation

Many trucking companies have discovered that being a safer fleet leads to differentiation in the market. Some customers will pay more for safer transportation of their goods. These are typically customers who are thinking about the long-term and their liability exposure.

Your program needs to be comprehensive, up-to-date and in writing. It should cover all your employees, and over time, it should be considered part of the company culture. No matter how you structure it, however, a good safety program must include the following:

  • Management commitment:

The management of the company must show its commitment to fleet management. They must make clear efforts to ensure all the employees' safety in their company, from top to bottom. The best way to do this is by outlining the steps and procedures to be followed while conducting business, from the conduct of their drivers to the disciplinary measures in place for employees who violate company policies. 

  • Driver qualification criteria, hiring and firing process:

Drivers are a big part of a trucking company. Often, safety comes down to hiring the best people and training them effectively. A lot has to go into hiring drivers. A safety program must first outline the company's hiring policy. It needs to be extensive enough to cover everything from applicants' qualifications, employment history, personal interviews, drug screening, medical qualifications, and a driving evaluation to determine their proficiency on the road. This goes beyond meeting state and federal requirements for driving; they need to be a fit for your company as well.

Establishing transparent hiring practices can make or break a company; do it right, and you put the safest, most competent people behind the wheel of your truck. This also means creating a personal relationship with all your drivers; know everyone driving on behalf of your company.

Driver control is all about consistency; over time, your drivers' quality has to be maintained. With a clear policy, it will be easier to root out unsuitable drivers. The more stringent it is, the less risk you expose to yourself and your company. 

The firing process is also important. You need to define the escalation procedure. What is a fireable offense and what isn’t? How many safety infractions are allowed before termination and how are those events documented?

  • Training:

Hiring drivers is not the only thing you need to do. Once drivers have been hired, they need to be trained. The program will lay out the rules drivers need to abide by when behind the wheel and at customer sites. They cannot operate the vehicle unless everyone is wearing a seatbelt, for example. Or they cannot allow unauthorized personnel into the vehicle. 

It needs to be ongoing, too; every new hire must be taken through the orientation. Every current employee needs to be evaluated over the year and— where necessary retrained. Drivers who do well should be rewarded and those who do not adhere should be relieved of their duties.

  • Accident Prevention Plan:

Your program needs to have an essential guide on what drivers should do to prevent an accident actively. This includes noting frequent red flags and risk factors, such as adhering to Hours-Of-Service rules, checking equipment before and during operation, even drug testing. It should consist of a procedure for retraining drivers after an accident or an offense.

Remember, your safety program should be a living, breathing thing. This isn't a document that you create and stick in a filing cabinet. You need to update it, distribute it to your team and live by it everyday. Nothing is worse then the management team not adhering to the safety program.

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